Fumbling County Government

When the sitting County Executive announced last week that he will not run for reelection (under the Home Rule Charter an Executive can serve a maximum three terms) the President of County Council noted that the Executive’s decision is "…almost like the Steelers losing Troy Polamalu.".

Steeler fans know all too well the effects of missing its starting strong safety: as of the 2011 season the Steelers posted a losing record (5-7) without Polamalu in the lineup. Backups have not gotten the job done. Hard to do for Pro-Bowl players.

So what is the Council President saying? Surely he meant to praise the current Executive, but in so doing he seemed to be demeaning candidates running in the spring and all subsequent holders of the office. It becomes all the more curious when one realizes that the President is likely to be one of those candidates. It makes one wonder if anyone is worthy of the office going forward.

Should the Council President run and win, should he be viewed as a lackluster imitation of the current Executive? If he does not take the office (either by opting not to run or running and not winning) will he treat the successful winner as stepping into shoes they will never be able to fill?

Public Hospitals on Life Support?

County Council is considering whether to form an independent panel to examine the possibility of pulling several authorities into County government or privatize them altogether. One of these agencies is the Kane Regional Hospitals, the County-owned system of four nursing care centers.

Might the analysis be beaten to the punch by the circumstances facing publicly-run hospitals?

An article in the Wall Street Journal notes that with rising costs, increasing complexity and regulations, and other factors government owned hospitals and care centers might be disappearing altogether as governments consider selling them.

According to the article about 1k of the nation’s 5k hospitals are owned by a government agency. There were 16 fewer of these public hospitals in 2008 than were there five years earlier and one analyst opined that "by nature of their small size, independence, and political entanglements [many] are poorly equipped to survive."

This is not to imply that the Kane system is among them. In the 2003 sunset review it was argued that the Kanes exist because "residents who lack resources to access private healthcare have historically turned to Allegheny County to provide that care". The Kanes outsourced several components of their operations and in 2006 an action plan was put into place where two centers became comprehensive living centers with independent living units. Surplus land was sold off and the Executive stated that "the changes I am implementing at the Kane Centers will not only respond to the changing needs of our population, but they will also enable us to erase the Kane Centers’ deficit for 2006 and operate the Centers at a break-even level for the foreseeable future".

Since that time there are still roughly the same number of employees (1,179 in 2009), the same number of beds (1,344 in 2009) and occupancy remains in the high 80s.