An overwhelming majority of voters – 83 percent – said yes to the University of Colorado Health, ending more than two years of debate about the future of Memorial Health System.

The vote means that UCH will take over daily operations of Memorial on Oct. 1.

But the plans for the transition have been underway for some time, said Interim CEO Mike Scialdone.

“Health care can’t take a day off,” he said. “So we’ve been working hard for quite some time now to ensure a smooth transition once the vote was finished.”

Voter turnout for the special election was surprisingly high – 40.9 percent of the city’s 176,556 registered voters turned in a ballot for the election. Only 12,298 voted against it, just over 17 percent.

“83 percent, that’s a mandate,” said Mayor Steve Bach. “That’s a sign that voters understood and trusted what we were doing with Memorial. I appreciate that trust.”

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And Councilor Merv Bennett, who had been a member of the second City Council task force and led the negotiations with UCH, said he was “beyond excited” by the outcome.

“People care about Memorial,” he said. “I am pleased because this outcome shows that all the citizens understood what we had put in place. They understood the partnership. This is a great day for the city – the greatest day in decades, I think.”

Under the terms of the lease, the city will receive annual payments, plus $185 million up front for the city to resolve issues with the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. The city also keeps $330 million in cash and investments to pay off Memorial’s debt.

UCH gets a southern branch of its University of Colorado Health collaboration that includes Poudre Valley Health System in Fort Collins and University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, as well as the Children’s Hospital of Colorado. Together, the system will run the length of the Front Range.

“And we plan for Memorial to be the southern flagship of the system,” said Bruce Schroffel, CEO of the University of Colorado Health. He told the audience that the plan was to grow the hospital and improve the health care.

Bach reiterated his plans to sequester the money the city receives from the lease to create a foundation, whose board members will be chosen by the mayor and City Council.

“Health care is an uncertain, fluid field,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a good thing to create this trust fund to make sure people can get the care they need.”

Bach said the mandate was clear that once the city does due diligence on an issue, and chooses the right path – voters will agree.

“This should be a model for future planning for all our enterprises,” he said. “We did extreme due diligence and we ended up with the best outcome possible. I hope we do the same with our other enterprises.”