Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Loaded Wishard Question Set for the November Ballot

I just obtained from the Marion County Auditor's Office the official Wishard question that will be appear on the ballot at the special election in November. Although the grammar is clumsy, it is a remarkable piece of biased craftsmanship, written in such a way not to ensure a fair election, but one that will produce a majority "Yes" vote this Fall. Here it is:

"Shall the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Indiana, issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance safe, efficient and functional facilities for the Wishard Hospital project:

  1. to allow Wishard to provide access to care for all residents of Marion County, including people who are seniors, poor uninsured or vulnerable regardless of their ability to pay; and
  2. to allow Wishard to provide specialized care, including to victims suffering from traumatic injuries or severe burns; and
  3. to allow Wishard to work with colleges and universities including Indiana University School of Medicine, Ivy Tech Community College, and the Purdue School of Pharmacy, to teach future doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals in Indiana?"

Advocacy groups have long known that poll results can be rigged by inserting certain hot button words or phrases into a poll question. It looks like HHC-MC has taken that to heart. You vote against the Wishard proposal and you are against "safe, efficient and functional" facilities, against "seniors," those suffering "traumatic injuries," "severe burns" and are also against education.

First, it is a needless off-year special election (purposefully set in an off year so there will be low turnout and increase the chance of passing). Now we have an intentionally loaded referendum question. It is clear that HHC-MC has nothing but contempt for Marion County voters and has no interest in an election where the issue would be fairly decided. This is all about HHC-MC winning the election and continuing to build its health services empire, with Marion County taxpayers holding the bag should HHC-MC fail.

Update: The suggestion was made that financial information should have been included in the referendum question. I found the applicable statute IC 6-1-20-3.6(c) that provides the wording of referendum questions. It does require that financial information be included after the description of the project.

However, looking at the budget bill passed during the special session, I found a section (Section 52) where HHC-MC only has to describe the project and does not have to include the financial information every other referendum must contain. How convenient.


jabberdoodle said...

Aren't they required to state the amount of the bonds?

Paul K. Ogden said...

I don't know the answer to that but that's a good question. I do know that the way they've written the question they could ask for $100 billion and it would still pass.

jabberdoodle said...

I believe the two school district referendum questions state amounts. One would think that more descriptive of the project that the propaganda posed here.

It doesn't even mention building a new facility.

Sean Shepard said...

Who actually wrote the question?

Paul K. Ogden said...

Sean, Health & Hospital wrote it, or at least they are the ones that passed it in a resolution on the 29th.

Downtown Indy said...

I guess they aren't building a new Wishard Hospital, like I'd heard. There's no mention of that at all.

This is the most bizarre referendum question ever. They should be required to state what the decision is that needs to be made and leave all the peripheral crap out of it.

And they didn't completely formulate their question as required by the Code:

"the following question shall be submitted to the eligible voters at the election conducted under this section:

"Shall ________ (insert the name of the political subdivision) issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance ___________ (insert a brief description of the controlled project), which is estimated to cost not more than _______ (insert the total cost of the project) and is estimated to increase the property tax rate for debt service by ___________ (insert increase in tax rate as determined by the department of local government finance)?"

What they came up with is neither 'brief' nor the description of a 'controlled project.'

It is, as you indicate, entirely an effort to trick voters.

A number of voters claim to be outraged by the way voter registration is 'hindering' their ability to register/vote (requiring picture IDs).

They should be absolutely livid by the blatant effort to manipulate their vote. But they probably won't be.

jabberdoodle said...

Does anyone know which Legislators inserted the H&H referendum language into the budget bill at the 11th hour? I think the voters should have that information in case they don't want there representatives watering down the only required referenda we have in this state.

Sean Shepard said...

Councilor Coleman (L - at large) called me earlier today and expressed concern over the phrasing of the question as well.

He is under the impression that this absolutely has to do with construction of a new hospital. I got the impression he intended to dig into this a little bit more.

Paul K. Ogden said...


I saw that language in the code you quote. The trouble is HHC slipped some other language in the code that has the effect of their only being required to describe the project, not provide any financial information.

Downtown Indy said...

I still say that

"safe, efficient and functional facilities for the Wishard Hospital project:to allow Wishard to provide access to care for all residents of Marion County, including people who are seniors, poor uninsured or vulnerable regardless of their ability to pay; andto allow Wishard to provide specialized care, including to victims usffering from traumatic injuries or severe burns; andto allow Wishard to work with colleges and universities including Indiana University School of Medicine, Ivy Tech Community College, and the Purdue School of Pharmacy, to teach future doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals in Indiana"

does not 'describe a project' by any stretch of the imagination. I'll concede that it's an embellished version of their Mission, Vision, Values Statement but not even the most clairvoyant among us could figure out what, exactly, they were voting for or against by reading that nonsense on a ballot.

Downtown Indy said...

Being naturally curious, I rummaged around and located their PR website wishardfacts.org.

In there they brag about their Extraordinary Value:

"In measure after measure, Wishard's quality of care exceeds state and national benchmarks - often by wide margins. For example, Wishard's survival rates for orthopaedic surgery, vascular surgery and for babies needing highly specialized neonatal care, place Wishard in the top five among the medical centers in the University HealthSystem Consortium Clinical Database. The University HealthSystem Consortium is an alliance of more than 100 academic medical centers and their affiliates across the United States.
But more importantly, Wishard provides this quality care with remarkable efficiency. Wishard is among the lowest cost health care systems in the nation, reinforced by the Dartmouth Atlas. Actuarial studies estimate that were the community to buy care to treat the indigent at commercial rates, the community would pay 141 percent more than Wishard's costs. In fact, even at below-market Medicare rates, the actuary estimates the community would still pay 42 percent more than Wishard's cost to care for the indigent."

This, to me, suggests they believe they are already going above and beyond the quality of service promised if they are granted the request for nearly a billion dollars.

Hand them that wad of money and those parts about being lowest-cost health care systems will have to be rewritten or removed.

jabberdoodle said...

I agree with Downtown -- no description of the project was made. Could be a tent suspended from the space station for all that is said.

So, when the Auditor 'certifies' the question, is that the last word or does it still have to meet the code? And, is the auditor's certification challengable to a 'higher authority', maybe the DLGF?

Paul K. Ogden said...


It looked like to me DLGF only got involved in the part of the question that dealt with fiscal impact. The trouble is the legislature dropped that off on the measure dealing with HHC-MC.

The wording of the question doesn't even make it clear that they intend to build a new hospital. I'm not sure the question could be any more deceptive. And what is the limit on their bonding? It looks unlimited to me.

spooknp said...

The hospital is a done deal. Right now they are cleaning out the old state board of health in preparation for a tear down in the coming months. Three months ago, they were cleaning out the remaining asbestos from the old LaRue Carter Hospital. That building is going to be torn down this Sept.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Spook, it's not a "done deal" until the voters have spoken. Unfortunatley they've so rigged the process that it's inevitably it will pass unless the council or someone puts a stop to it.

carlfire said...

This tactic is not unusual for Wishard or H&H. In 1981, the Star had an article about Wishard building ambulance stations. Being a firefighter I thought this was a bit much since we had an ambulance at our station and there were others at other stations. So, I went to the H&H Board meeting to explain my displeasures and the fact that it was a waste of money. When they brought it up they said they were going to table it, I spoke anyway and said I thought it was a bad idea and a waste of money and I left. Later in the same meeting they brought it up under a lease not a purchase and it passed. Even the media asked, why the board didn’t explain to the firefighter that the subject was going to be brought up in another ordinance. They answered that was his though luck, he didn’t stay. Later that night I saw the report on TV that they had passed it. That little incident got me to start the Indianapolis Taxpayers Association. BTW Wishard never built the ambulance stations.
Another time H&H bragged at a council budget hearing that they had actually shown a profit that year. After a little more scrutiny I learned that they had actually lost $4.2 million to Medicare for misrepresenting Medicare filings. H&H and Wishard were trying hard to hide this from everyone. Had it not been for an anonymous note I received in the mail, I wouldn’t have known it. When the council found out that H&H and Wishard had lied to them they proposed a $3 million cut in the H&H budget. Beurt SerVaas had to call a special caucus in the middle of the council meeting to straighten the whole thing out. I could go on and on with stories about Wishard and H&H and most of them point out their sheer arrogance.
Wishard and H&H are the most devious and arrogant people I have ever seen in or out of government. They really don’t believe you the taxpayers should have anything to say about what they are doing. Remember these are the same people who have bought and own 37 nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout Indiana, without anyone, even in government knowing it. That was our fault because we didn’t pay attention. Now let’s get and keep their attention. I believe since they have been so disingenuous about this matter that we start a campaign to defeat this question on the ballot. I also believe we notice those who stand up for them. The arrogance of these people is beyond the pale. They think that they are better and smarter than we are. I think a lesson in good government is appropriate and timely.