Thursday, October 16, 2008

From the Campaign Trail

The one negative thing I've heard campaigning was someone telling me that my opponent was at her door saying that Maxwell had not attended a single meeting of the Douglas County Hospital board. It's an opportunity to explain the nature of the office.

I have attended the meetings (2 or 3) of the hospital board when they have been incorporated into our regular Tuesday meetings, but it is true that I do not go to the hospital for board meetings.

The hospital (Douglas County Health Center) is one of many agencies and departments of county government. I could be going to meetings nonstop. I see the commissioner as someone surveying the overall picture from 30,000 feet and not trying to micromanage agencies/departments.

On specifics, we divide and conquer. We have committees focused on particular agencies/departments. For instance, we have a commissioner who monitors health and human services matters, including the hospital, and we get regular reports from the hospital and other agencies/departments. If something needs special attention, the rest of the board will be alerted to it.

One example is the county jail. Right after I took office in 2005, jail director Bob Houston left the county jail to run the state pen. That was a case where commissioners needed to parachute down from 30,000 feet and get on the ground and get directly involved in the decision. It's one of the most important positions in county government.

The proposal was to install Captain John Hubbard as the interim director while searching for a permanent director. I had people, including some fellow commissioners, all over me saying the sky would fall if we tapped Hubbard.

You may recall that there were huge problems in preceding years with allegations of racism and sexism in the work environment at the jail. Houston cleaned it up. But Houston himself said the staff made it happen, so I was part of the 4-3 vote to install Hubbard.

Hubbard did a great job. Everything went fine.

The permanent director we hired did not work out, so six months later were back at it. We reinstalled Hubbard and he held the fort just fine until we got Jeff Newton, who is doing a great job.

Lesson learned: trust your people in county government until proven otherwise. Whatever the stereotypes are about government workers, I continue to be impressed by county workers.

Health benefits was another example of direct involvement.

My first three years I was in charge of the Human Resources Committee. One of its priorities is the health plan for county workers.

The only time I've had a TV crew cover such a committee meeting was when the University of Nebraska Medical Center threatened to pull out of the county health plan negotiated by United HealthCare. I was getting pressure from some county employees and some board colleagues to cave in to UNMC and order UHC to agree to UNMC's terms.

My family gets health care at UNMC and when the negotiations dragged on for most of 2007, it was getting dicey. In November I was hearing from county employees who were trying to make doctor appointments for January 2008, but UNMC was saying they had better find another doctor because it looked like UNMC would no longer be part of the plan.

I met with people from UHC and UNMC, but the board resisted the pressure to issue a mandate. Negotiations finally succeeded.

I thought it would have been disastrous to let UNMC call the tune. Then Alegent and every other provider in our plan would have realized: Hey, just scare the county workers who use us and get them screaming on commissioners and we can get the board to give us whatever we want, too. Health care costs are hard enough to control without that kind of blank-check process. Either county employees or county taxpayers would be bear the increasing costs. (I voted against adding those extra coverages a few weeks ago.) We pay UHC to negotiate the best deal for us. Stay out of the way and let UHC negotiate.

So no, I don't go to the hospital board meetings. But when circumstances warrant, I get involved in specifics.

1 comment:

OmaSteak said...

I'm glad to read that someone is up there in the stratosphere watching all departments of county government waste taxpayer's money on all sorts of activities that government has no business doing in the first place. Don't get a nosebleed from the altitude or pressure sores from sitting through all those "productive" meetings...LOL!!!