El Reno City Council is in no rush to make an agreement with Mercy Health Network Inc.
At least the council decided to take no action on a proposal offered Tuesday night.
Mercy last week informed the city it would not renew its management agreement for the city-owned hospital.
After eight years of managing the hospital, the agreement comes to an end May 4.
Mercy is offering to build a 24-hour urgent care clinic and would operate the ambulance service if the city will help subsidize both operations for $600,000 per year.
Mayor and Acting City Manager Matt White told fellow council members there is no need to rush into an agreement with Mercy.
“We have options,” White said.
He said other “operators” are interested in talking with El Reno about possibly providing health-care services here.
“Do I look worried,” White said. “I’m not worried,” he told the council. “Let’s take our time. We have money and we are debt free. We’re not in the same shape as some other places.”
Mercy’s Cindy Carmichael said there would be “no lapse” in health care in El Reno if the city chooses to accept Mercy’s offer. She said the hospital would continue to remain open while the new urgent care clinic is being constructed.
The proposed clinic would be on three acres the city owns just off SW 27th and west of the Public Safety Center.
The city would lease the land to Mercy for 30 years. An ambulance barn would be built nearby and would have living quarters for four. Mercy wants a 10-year agreement and a subsidy of $250,000 per year to operate the ambulance and another $350,000 annual subsidy to operate the urgent care on a 24-hour basis.
White pushed for the 24-hour commitment after Mercy first proposed closing the urgent care overnight.
“We have to have health care 24 hours,” he said. White said with a population of 20,000, it’s vital health care include a 24-hour emergency room and ambulance service.
State law forbids an ambulance from delivering a patient to an urgent care clinic, Carmichael said. She said a community in Illinois was successful in getting a waiver from the health department there to allow ambulances to bring patients to an urgent care, but said there is no guarantee such a waiver could be obtained here.
Carmichael said the 24-hour urgent care would be staffed at the same level as an emergency room. The clinic would also have space for primary care doctors and specialty care physicians.
Councilman Bob Ballhorn said he “could not trust” Mercy after the firm 18 months ago announced plans to build a new hospital here. Mercy officials have said the health-care landscape has changed and could not justify such a plan after losing close to $3 million here last year.
Still, Vice Mayor J.T. Chronister called Mercy's change of plans a “slap in the face.”
White defended Mercy, saying he believes officials “truly want what’s best for the citizens of El Reno, but at the same time they are a business.
“We get it, health care has changed,” he said.
White said El Reno could consider filing a lawsuit against Mercy for damages because it gave the city the impression it planned to build a micro-hospital here which kept El Reno from considering other options. He went on to say litigation is not the preferred option.
“We don’t want to fight, we want health care,” White said.
Carmichael pushed the idea of Mercy reimbursing El Reno for expenses incurred in planning for the new hospital, proposed as a roughly $22 million project. She said Mercy could pay $250,000 up front and another $250,000 a year later.
Council took no action and planned to revisit the issue later when White said more proposals could be brought to the table.