Benefis and the Coal Plant: A Win-Win Relationship

Benefis will ultimately purchase its electricity from the coal plant (through Electric City Power) and the proposed coal plant should help to generate customers for Benefis. Definitely a win-win situation.

The hospital is one of several large customers currently obtaining subsidized electricity from ECP. It was certainly a good business decision for the hospital to buy power at less than market rate, although the taxpayers will be responsible if the coal plant does not go forward. These large contracts are essential for the City/SME coal plant development. If the Governor signs the re-regulation bill, ECP would only have until October to sign up other large electricity users like Benefis. Presumably, at some point these organizations would be charged market rates for power.

The proposed coal plant will do its part for Benefis' bottom line by causing a
minor to moderate reduction in the air quality. Some facts from the American Lung Association:

  • Particle pollution diminishes lung function, causes greater use of asthma medications and increased rates of school absenteeism, emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Other adverse effects can be coughing, wheezing, cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks.
  • People at the greatest risk from particle pollution exposure include those with lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema; people with sensitive airways, where exposure to particle pollution can cause wheezing, coughing and respiratory irritation; the elderly; people with heart disease; and children.
Here is the population data listing the number of individuals (potential patients!) living in Cascade County at higher risk for additional medical problems from exposure to pollution.

Cascade pop.(79,569) Under 18(18,619) 65 & over(11,875) Pediatric asthma(1657) Adult asthma(4,751) Chronic bronchitis(2,562) Emphysema(1,198) Heart disease(20,908) Diabetes(4,920)

It seems incongruous, perhaps hypocritical, for Benefis to assume a leadership role in this region's health care while at the same time facilitating the development of a local coal plant which could decrease the health of Great Falls seniors, asthmatics and others at risk for pulmonary problems form particulate matter. These are the type of decisions that occur when administrators, and not physicians, are in control of health care. Numerous physicians and other health care workers protested against the coal plant in a Tribune ad several months ago. Nearly all of these protesting physicians had Benefis hospital privileges and included two of the communities pulmonary specialists. (see Doctors Doubt 'minimal impacts downwind')

Benefis should not extend its power contract with ECP and encourage dirty coal plant development even if it is 'good for business'. If you agree, contact one of Benefis' Board of Directors, John Goodnow, CEO or Dr. Paul Dolan, Chief Medical Officer (455-5000, benefis@benefis.org)


Anonymous said...

Strange Bedfellows...

Dr. Charles Christensen, and the Montana Environmental Information Center, filed a lawsuit against the City of Great Falls, alleging violations of the Montana Constitution as it relates to public access to public records.

These public records of course deal with the proposed Highwood Generating Station.

Benefis Hospital will ultimately purchase its electricity from the coal plant via Electric City Power.

Dr. Christensen is a local physician. He is employed by Benefis Healthcare Associates.


Hawkeye said...

Benefis Healthcare is ranked in the top 5% nationally for large health care organizations indirectly supporting coal pollution. Despite protests from many of their own physicians these innovative administrative leaders strive to get the lowest cost energy at the least health risk for all their indigent patients.

Benefis has be nationally recognized by numerous independent health care monitoring groups including those at the prestigious healthgradehypocrits.com.