AT THE end of the news report on the plan to sell the Cebu city hospital was the line that said the idea cropped up as early as in 2002.

Indeed, whenever a problem hits the Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC), also known as the city hospital, the option to sell it or for City Hall to get rid of it is resurrected.

Whether the problem stems from mismanagement, the death of a patient deprived of immediate and adequate treatment, or the loss of checks for payment of hospital bills, the option that emerges is to put up the facility for sale.

That is what appears from the statements made by Cebu City Government officials on what to do with the hospital, usually the place of last resort for the city's destitute sick. And that threat to sell it has been made several times since 2002.

The news report titled "Hospital sale plan revived" that came out in Sun.Star Cebu yesterday, Monday, said a legislator suggested turning over management of the facility to the private sector. Some safeguards can be instituted under the new set-up that would still give poor patients, the target clientele of the hospital, access and care.

The report ended with the statement that the same proposal was hatched as early as 2002.

Sometime in December 2002, then Mayor Tomas Osmeña gave the prognosis. The hospital had only six months to live, and within that period to rid itself of corruption and inefficiency. After the time lapse and if corrections were not made, then the CCMC's life-support system would be shut down. The City Hall would no longer infuse funds into it.

"I'm putting a fuse of only six months and I'm going to light it now," Osmeña had said.

There were some private groups that initially expressed interest in taking over the running of the CCMC from the City Government. They talked about how to keep the city hospital alive, of infusing fresh investment from the community and even Cebuanos abroad, of auditing operations and correcting defects, of screening indigents and keeping the qualified staff.

As I wrote in 2002, they were considering a supra-medical alternative that would involve the Cebu community, go beyond the medical industry and go over the head of Mayor Osmeña. The plan was to let the community own the facility. But the move fizzled out, and Osmeña allowed the six months to lapse without drastic change.

The 49-year-old CCMC has had enough threats of closure. What it needs already is a firm decision by City Hall on what to do with it.

What triggered the revival of the plan to sell CCMC was the recent loss of checks from a health insurance agency. Some of the checks were later found to have been cashed.

Prior to that, there were incidents of inefficiency and accusations of malpractice.

Mayor Michael Rama does not favor selling CCMC and he said he is looking for a better option. Until there is a better way, he said the hospital chief will be replaced and certain policies will be reviewed.

City Hall officials must be prepared to take action soon on the CCMC and surprise Cebuanos with the possibilities, because the plan to sell it is already sounding like a tired idea that gets to be resurrected for lack of creativity.

(ninicab@sunstar.com.ph)