Rockowitz: Opinion of reporting on HonorHealth ER

Posted 4/13/21

Your newspaper was contacted by various concerned residents of Paradise Valley who felt unscrupulous developers and the city of Phoenix were inappropriately and permanently changing our residential …

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Rockowitz: Opinion of reporting on HonorHealth ER


Your newspaper was contacted by various concerned residents of Paradise Valley who felt unscrupulous developers and the city of Phoenix were inappropriately and permanently changing our residential neighborhood. The city was being bamboozled by a slick attorney, and the people most affected were being silenced.

Your paper was given my name as a resource since I have been actively organizing opposition to this rezoning for over a year. I was contacted by Melissa Rosequist, who appeared eager to hear the story. We anticipated that HonorHealth along with HonorHealth’s attorney, Wendy Riddell, and the landowner, Tom Hatten, would do their best to hide the truth and divert the discussion away from the critical issues in this case.

Melissa was afforded legitimate published references (that included a bibliography of supporting references) and documents to support our side of the argument. Through three public zoning hearings and multiple face-to-face meetings with Riddell/HonorHealth, they have failed to address the main issues at every step of the process. When asked Riddell/HonorHealth change the subject and repeat their overused mantra about community need and affordability.

Your article was more of the same. Your headline provided hope that your reporter would expose what is really going on. We were hoping that the press would do a better job getting to the real issues in this case:

  •  Why here?
  •  HonorHealth cannot support its claims that our community has a need for this facility nor that it is an affordable option.
  •  Investigate Hatten’s financial dealings and how it affects the case. The pattern of the public hearings thus far where Riddell speaks, then we speak, then Riddell gets to speak again (effectively silencing us) makes it impossible for us to expose Riddell/HonorHealth and Hatten. We were hoping for something better from the PV Independent.

Despite a 30-minute interview by Melissa, it is very disappointing that PVI devoted such a minuscule portion of the article to the “threat to peace” and published minuscule number of meaningful quotes from me. She ignored all of the important issues in this case and failed to ask Riddell any meaningful questions. This just served to trivialize our side of the story in a similar fashion seen during the zoning hearings to date.

PVI devoting three pages of unsubstantiated comments by Riddell and HonorHealth (with added headings such as “Care for more people” and “Outpatient medical facility”) simply boosted their credibility when it was clearly not deserved. By allowing them to make false statements without rebuttal reads more like one of those paid advertisement pages that pretend to be news items. Your article allowed Riddell/HonorHealth to grandstand and advertise their project in a way that was identical to what we witnessed at every public hearing.

Riddell stated: “HonorHealth is a nonprofit local health care system, whose assessments continually show the need for greater affordability and access to care.” One of our neighbors repeatedly requested to see this “assessment” that proved this Paradise Valley/Scottsdale neighborhood was lacking in access to medical care. We also requested hospital charge data to justify HonorHealth’s claim that this model was actually more affordable.

Rick Murdock, vice president of planning for HonorHealth, responded to us and was unable to produce any evidence to support their “need” and “affordability” assertions. A Federal Medicare study has extensively studied standalone emergency rooms, and their published data refutes Riddell/HonorHealth’s claims of affordability. When a standalone ER developer (in this case Anchor Health) partners with a hospital (HonorHealth), the center may charge exactly what they would charge at the main hospital.

HonorHealth has stated: “We have found the majority of the patients who go to the ER could have been served by an urgent care, yet they are charged ER prices.” The Medicare study clearly disputes this claim. Multiple studies have shown that only 13% to 27% of ER patients would have been better served at an Urgent Care center. In addition, HonorHealth’s affiliation will actually make the urgent care bill more expensive.

Hospital affiliation will enable this “affordable” urgent care to upcharge the bill for comparable services received at non-hospital-affiliated urgent cares such as Concentra or NextCare, which are already plentiful in our community. The HonorHealth statement is very misleading. The urgent care is typically open for business 8-12 hours per day. When it is closed, all patients regardless of acuity will be billed at “ER prices.”

HonorHealth claims: “The reality is that we lose money by staying open 24/7.” The surrounding neighborhood has repeatedly told HonorHealth that an urgent care center that was not 24/7 would be welcome. On the other hand, the Medicare study showed that centers that remained open 24/7 were allowed to further upcharge all bills throughout the day. This upcharge applies to all charges including ER charges, urgent care charges, laboratory charges, radiology charges, and doctor’s charges. The claim that this entity will be operating at a loss is not believable.

The Medicare study discovered a very disturbing nationwide trend: Standalone ER developers are targeting high-income, highly insured ZIP codes. In other words, medical access and community need are irrelevant. Does anyone really believe the residents of Paradise Valley and Scottdale have a problem with access to medical care?

The neighborhood that will be disrupted by this rezoning attack has repeatedly asked Riddell/HonorHealth: Why here? During three public zoning hearings and multiple face-to-face meetings with the neighborhood, Riddell/Honorhealth have been asked this question and to date they have never responded to the question.

The neighborhood is convinced money is the ulterior motive. Paradise Valley (85253) ranks No. 1 in AZ for income. Paradise Valley (85253) ranks No. 2 in AZ for income growth. The real estate across the street from the rezoning parcel is Paradise Valley (85253). Paradise Valley (85253) does not permit commercial development. The parcel in question is on the north side of Shea and resides in 85254 (which also ranks high for income) but is governed by the city of Phoenix. Whereas PV does not permit commercial rezoning, the city of Phoenix has a reputation for approving any/all redevelopment.

The neighbors surrounding this rezoning attempt have differing ZIP codes (85253 and 85254) but a unified contempt for this project. They have presented a petition representing 1,000-plus residents who oppose this project for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that no resident should be forced to reside adjacent to a 24/7 business. They are being asked to allow a 24/7 emergency room to operate literally adjacent and surrounded by a neighborhood that has enjoyed peace/quiet for the last 50 years. Despite the fact HonorHealth bills itself as a “nonprofit hospital,” the neighbors view it as a greedy attempt to tap into a wealthy market at the expense of the people it claims to serve.

Hatten involvement

You appropriately devoted quite a bit of print to the transaction between Hatten and Addison. The $10 transaction clearly does not pass the “smell test.” But you either asked the wrong question or accepted the wrong answer. “Mr. Hatten told Independent Newsmedia that he is not involved in the HonorHealth project.” This quote is actually truthful and exactly what Riddell has been repeating throughout. The reality is that nobody suspects Hatten’s involvement with the “HonorHealth project.” That is not the story.

The question should have been: “How are you connected to Steve Addison?” “How are we to believe you sold a multi-million dollar piece of land for $10?” “What is your financial connection to Steve Addison?” “Why hide your involvement in the sale of this land?”

Why is this relevant? The land in question is still up for sale pending this rezoning. The City Council, mayor and the public need to know that Tom Hatten, the same Tom Hatten that flouted the City Council and mayor’s efforts during COVID last year, stands to make millions on this sale at the expense of the surrounding 1,000-plus neighbors who oppose it.

Tom Hatten has already demonstrated his disdain for our neighborhood by constructing the Mountainside Fitness monstrosity in the center of a residential neighborhood. Because of a quirk in the zoning laws, he was able to escape the scrutiny of a rezoning process that would have undoubtedly forced him to build a more palatable structure that did not violate zoning laws. Two years ago, Tom Hatten personally informed our neighborhood: “I will rezone this land to whatever I want, it is just a matter of when.” Councilwoman Debra Stark has been well aware of the problems surrounding Hatten’s Mountainside development. Early in the rezoning process, Councilwoman Stark warned Riddell/HonorHealth to avoid a “repeat of the Mountainside fiasco.”

The motive for Hatten to “try” to remove his name from the rezoning process is obvious. While his comment that he is “not involved in the HonorHealth project” may be true, there is ample evidence to suggest that he is financially tied to this rezoning attack. His convenient use of words to describe his situation says it all.

Allowing Tom Hatten’s comment to stand alone without my explanation is just bad journalism.

It would be beneficial to your readership, Phoenix Mayor Gallego, and the Phoenix City Council that this Letter to the Editor appear promptly in your publication.

Editor's Note: Dr. Neal Rockowitz is a resident of Phoenix, who's home abuts the proposed HonorHealth ER property.