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GF delegation fails to block debt forgiveness

Amendment requires UND to absorb Fargo clinic's debt

BISMARCK -- Grand Forks, Minot and Bismarck legislators tried but failed Saturday to block an amendment requiring the UND School of Medicine to forgive nearly $400,000 in debt owed by the Family HealthCare Center in Fargo.

The center owes UND more than $560,000, debt that's built up since the medical school helped it get off the ground in 1994. Fargo-area lawmakers want UND to forgive $395,000 of that debt, incurred during the first two start-up years, to help the center regain its financial footing.

The center receives federal funds for treating low-income residents of the Fargo-Moorhead area. Many of its clients are political refugees from war-torn countries. Since 1995, UND has provided 15 family medicine residents for the center, although the school now is phasing out its involvement there.

House Majority Leader Wes Belter, R-Leonard, said UND can afford to do Fargo a favor after all North Dakota has done for Grand Forks.

"The State Legislature has done an awful lot for the city of Grand Forks," Belter said. "This $395,000 we would like to forgive, so this clinic can treat these people who came to Fargo, mostly through immigration, as refugees. I don't think that's asking too much."

Belter said the medical school has been operating without that money for five years already and isn't ever likely to collect it, so forgiving it would mean little to UND, but very much to the HealthCare Center.

Not fair

Grand Forks legislators dispute that, and so do legislators from Minot and Bismarck, where UND has two other family medicine programs. They say UND has had to divert resources from its other clinics to support the Fargo program, which has fallen $165,000 behind on its payments for UND residents and pharmacy services in the past two years.

"The sensible and logical thing to do is, if the clinic is in trouble, forgive that debt, and then kick in from the general fund to make UND whole," said Rep. Amy Kliniske, R-Grand Forks. "UND shouldn't have to pay for a Fargo clinic, a federally funded clinic."

The clinic is in the middle of a reorganization effort, and Kliniske believes it could begin producing revenue in the next few years. She said UND can give the clinic more time, but when it's ready, it should begin paying down that debt.

Kliniske and others hoped to strike a bargain, in which the state would buy off part of the $395,000 and UND would forgive the rest. But Republican leadership wouldn't give ground on the matter.

The HealthCare Center will be in a better position to get new grants and financing, and hopefully, will be able to catch up on its more recent debts to the School of Medicine.

Source: Grand Forks Herald, April 29, 2001