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CAN IHC EARN `CHARITABLE WORKS' TAX BREAK?

A team of Salt Lake County officials is proposing that Intermountain Health Care Inc. earn part of its "charitable works" tax break through a partnership with the City-County Health Department.

In a report presented to county commissioners Tuesday afternoon, the team suggested that IHC could help develop satellite clinics, provide training, donate surplus medical equipment and share its purchasing power. If all of the proposals were implemented, the cost to IHC would exceed $2 million.The report was ordered by commissioners late last year following a long debate and controversy over new rules governing the tax-exempt status of Salt Lake-area non-profit hospitals. While some hospitals were granted religious exemptions, IHC's exemptions were based on its charitable contributions to the community.

Commission Chairman Jim Bradley, who opposed the tax-exempt status, said the proposals in the report wouldn't satisfy all of his concerns, "but they are a starting point."

Jim Walker, associate director of the county's Human Services Department, said the team concentrated on five specific areas where IHC might be able to assist the City-County Health Department:

Facilities - "Of greatest need and benefit" to community health care would be the donation of money or labor to expand or remodel clinic space in the Peterson Library in Sandy ($470,000), Kearns Clinic ($1.1 million) and Central City Clinic ($730,000).

Staffing - IHC employees could be assigned to health department clinics on a regular basis. IHC has already agreed to provide staff for special mass screening events and immunizations at their own facilities.

Purchasing - IHC is offering its purchasing power and resulting discounts to the health department, subject to the approval of its suppliers and other participants in the purchasing system. The county could save about $10,000 per year by buying medical supplies through IHC.

Surplus property - IHC has offered to give the county some of its surplus medical equipment. Although the health department doesn't use a majority of the equipment used by IHC hospitals, some items would be welcome, Walker said, estimating savings at "tens of thousands of dollars."

Training - IHC has long invited health department employees to participate in the in-service training it provides its staff and has now expanded the offer to include "any and all training," including business office training, medical and health care and other areas. The service would be worth about $8,000 per year.

"These are all items that have been discussed, and we're open to explore them further," said Steve Kohlert, IHC executive vice president. "We would like to sit down and discuss what services we can provide and how we can help."

Kohlert said IHC already contributes to the support of five indigent clinics and helped with the $1 million refurbishing of the Northwest Clinic. IHC's participation in the remodeling of the three county clinics will depend on several factors, including a consideration of the costs, he said.

IHC is willing to lend its expertise and organizational services to the county where possible, Kohlert said. "We're particularly enthusiastic about participating in the county's immunization program for children," he added.

The next step in the process will be a detailed evaluation of the report "to see what can be done and what can't," Kohlert said. "I consider this an ongoing dialogue."

Before the Utah Supreme Court overruled the policy in 1985, non-profit hospitals were classified as charitable organizations and automatically received tax-exempt status. In 1986, voters defeated a proposition that would have exempted hospitals from property taxes.

Since then, hospitals have had to convince county commissioners each year that they qualify for exemptions because of charitable contributions to the community, resulting in squabbles and appeals. The State Tax Commission intervened in 1990 with a set of standards by which hospitals could be judged.

In its case before counties last year, IHC argued that the value of its charity care and other community gifts exceeded $100 million, including $11 million for indigent care.