Avera, Sanford make cases to boardCity committee listens but doesn’t decide on program.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The two largest health-care providers in South Dakota made the case Tuesday that they could best offer an athletic enhancement program to the city of Mitchell.
But neither one closed the deal, as the Mitchell Park and Recreation Board tabled the issue and said it will likely decide next month which health-care giant will offer the program. The board heard the presentations at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary and conducted the rest of the meeting in the attached Recreation Center.
It’s been a political football in Mitchell recently, and board members said they are well aware of that. City Councilman Marty Barington, who serves as a council liaison to the committee, urged members not to vote Tuesday night, but to wait for public input.
“Give the public a chance to comment,” Barington said. “Let the emails come on in. Let the phone calls come on in.”
While some members were prepared to vote, board member Ryan Tupper made a motion to table it for a month, and after some discussion, that’s what happened.
“To me, we’re in a mandatory cool-down period right now,” Tupper said.
However, the feelings were anything but cool at times, as board members said they resented being pulled back and forth, and city staff said they were displeased at being accused of favoring one side or the other. They said they have been seeking input from both Avera and Sanford for several months.
The dual presentations — each was 20 minutes — came in the wake of a Park and Recreation Board decision two months ago. At its Jan. 8 meeting, the board voted to partner with Sanford Health at the Recreation Center on a one-year trial basis.
However, when that was reported to the Mitchell City Council at its Feb. 19 meeting, concerns were expressed that Avera, which has a much larger presence in Mitchell, hadn’t received enough consideration. The council decided to let both health care giants make one more presentation to the Park and Recreation Board.
Before the board deliberated Tuesday, it heard from representatives from the two companies.
Matt Ditmanson, director of the Sanford Clinic of Mitchell, and Scott Roggenbuck, director of Sanford’s Power Program, the health service’s athletic program, made their pitches.
Avera Queen of Peace Hospital President and CEO Tom Clark made the case for Avera, along with Jason Askew, the manager of the Avera Sports Institute, and Dr. John Swisher, an Avera family and sports medicine doctor based in Mitchell.
Both sides offered presentations and fielded questions at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School. The board, minus its president, Bob Everson, who was at a wake, listened, as did Mayor Ken Tracy, City Council President Jeff Smith, City Council members Barington, Randy Doescher, Steve Rice and Susan Tjarks, several city staffers and a few members of the public. Local media were given advance notice that a quorum of the eight-member council could be present.
Neither program will cost the city a dime, but participants would pay. Sanford’s presentation didn’t include a price; Avera’s included a suggested price of $175.
Clark and Ditmanson said they wanted to provide the guidelines to a ground-based training program as a service to the community, and especially as a way to promote health and activity for young people.
Clark, however, also offered a revenue stream for the city if Avera’s program is chosen.
He said if someone enrolled in the training program at the city Rec Center would sign up for additional programs at Acceleration, an Avera program, the city would get half the money.
Clark also said Avera would train city employees who work on the program, and provide “salary support” to the city for their work.
Clark said having Avera team with the city is a “natural extension” of its partnerships with Mitchell High School and DWU athletics.
He said Avera has fully trained and equipped trainers to work with people seeking assistance.
“Much of what we’re talking about today, with our proposal, is what Sanford presented,” Clark said. “From our perspective, this is about a relationship. This is about a partnership.”
Avera Queen of Peace has provided care to the Mitchell community for more than a century, he said.
“I think that gives us a real advantage to develop a program that you desire, or you need,” he said.
The program is “fully customized,” and can be tailored to age, skill level and sport.
“What we’re talking about here is a fully customized, ground-based training program,” he said, that will “reflect the demands” of each athlete or a person seeking to get or stay in good shape.
Ditmanson, a 1985 Mitchell High School graduate, said the goal today is to get kids involved in training earlier, and Sanford’s program can do that.
But while it’s important to get kids active, and keep them that way, it’s also vital to ensure they are safe, he said. That’s why Sanford has worked with experts in a variety of fields to create the Power Program.
“Inherently, by that emphasis on safety, we increase performance,” Ditmanson said.
Roggenbuck, who pointed out he is a Dakota Wesleyan University graduate, said the Power Program can provide fun, games and exercise for kids and adults.
“We’re not a cookie-cutter program, we’re not a one-size-fits-all type of program,” he said.
Roggenbuck said it is a “ground-based” program, which means it can be mobile and be run at schools and other sites. While it uses treadmills and other devices, the primary process is to have athletes in ground-level training.
He said the staff is educated and certified, and will work with the same people every time. That’s a philosophy that the Rec Center shares, and something both believe in, Roggenbuck said.
The program tailors its activities for the talents and fitness level of athletes, he said. It also focuses on strength and stability to decrease the risk of injuries.
Both health-care providers pledged to make sports camps available, and said they have ties to professional athletes. While Avera offered a detailed written proposal, Sanford’s was a PowerPoint presentation. The committee said it will ask Sanford for a written proposal before making a decision.
After the presentations Tuesday night, the board and Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department employees kicked the issue around for more than 30 minutes before deciding to table it.
Rec Center Director Rob Marchand said he was interested in Sanford’s Power Program, which is “ground-based” training meant to simulate the conditions athletes face in their particular sport. He said that’s distinct from Avera, which has long offered an Acceleration program.
“I feel like an idiot,” Marchand said. “I thought we had a gentleman’s agreement.”
Board member Tim Moon said he was ready to agree to work with Sanford, and Denise Werner, the board’s secretary-treasurer, and a registered nurse, said she preferred Sanford both as a person and a medical professional.
Board Vice President John Cersosimo, who chaired the meeting, said he wanted to learn more about the offers before deciding.
But other board members said this decision was about more than a Rec Center program. This was the latest chapter in a statewide competition between Sanford and Avera, they said.
Moon said it was wrong to discuss the issue without acknowledging “the elephant in the room.”
“It’s bigger than a program decision,” Tupper said. “Fortunately or unfortunately.”
“Fortunately and unfortunately,” Werner said.
When the board made its original decision two months ago, the Rec Center would have agreed to a one-year commitment, with the option of a second year with any desired changes. Sanford would train Thomas Gulledge, the Rec Center’s fitness coordinator, to run its program, and subsidize his pay when he is teaching the program, an offer that Clark said Avera would match.
The board is scheduled to make its decision at its April meeting.