Island Hospital board split over partnership [Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.]
(Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, WA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 24--Just days before three local hospitals are set to vote on a partnership with a larger health care system, some officials from one local hospital board seem to be wavering.
The three boards are scheduled to vote on a partner on Thursday, Aug. 29. But Island Hospital's board might vote "none of the above."
Calling themselves the "interlocals," Island, Skagit Valley and Cascade Valley hospitals already work together and share some resources. In March, they began as a group seeking a nonprofit partner to offer financial stability and bargaining power.
Two Island Hospital board members, along with CEO Vince Oliver, said at a work session Thursday night they aren't sure joining Skagit Valley and Cascade Valley hospitals in their quest for a larger partner is such a good idea right now.
Skagit and Cascade could still move forward without Island Hospital, said Skagit board President Clark Todd.
"If they do back out, that's OK, too," Todd said. "There was never any commitment that, at the end, it's one for all and all for one. This is not the Three Musketeers."
A joint steering committee composed of elected commissioners and unelected administrators from each of the interlocals has been researching potential partners for months. The suitors are Virginia Mason Medical Center, the alliance between Swedish Health Services and Providence Health & Services, and a newly formed alliance between PeaceHealth and UW Medicine.
It is that newly formed alliance that appears to be in the lead, according to presentations this past week by a consultant group hired to study the partner proposals.
Oliver said at last Thursday's work session that Island Hospital is, in some ways, better off on its own. Its patient and staff satisfaction ratings both are better than those of the suitors, he said.
Commissioner Jan Iversen added that services such as Island's cancer care center are already at least as good as those offered at Seattle hospitals.
"We are far superior in many areas to many of these potential partners. Not in every way, but in some really important ways," newly appointed Commissioner Lynne Lang said Thursday after the work session. "We do have choices, and it's so important that we maintain choices for our community."
Partnering with one system also could mean Island Hospital could no longer pursue working relationships with other systems for various services, Oliver said at the work session.
"A wait-and-see process might be a very good alternative for us," he said in an interview Friday. "... I don't see (the suitors) rushing into Anacortes and building facilities and competing. I'm struggling to see that."
But the board presidents of all three hospital districts, including Island board President Buzz Ely, have said the hospitals are in a good position to choose a partner now, while they are fiscally healthy. All three have said there are serious concerns about how long smaller hospitals can survive the coming health care changes.
If Island's board decides to go it alone, the taxsupported hospital would need strong public support to pay for things like electronic medical records and building new facilities, Ely said.
"There's a lot to weigh in terms of what we can ask the community to do," said Ely, who did not attend the work session Thursday.
Ely is on vacation until Wednesday, the day before the scheduled vote on a partnership. He said he intends to choose a partner but could not say which one would get his vote.
Choosing a partner is just the beginning, Ely said. Each hospital would then negotiate its own contract with the chosen partner.
Wh i l e t h e i n t e r l o -- cals sought a partner as a group, Skagit Valley Hospital and its clinics, collectively known as Skagit Regional Health, are the largest and most attractive of the three, Todd said. He said the potential partners should still be on board as long as Skagit is, even without Island Hospital's participation.
Island Hospital could still work with the other two local hospitals the same way it currently does, Todd said.
Cascade Valley Hospital CEO Clark Jones and board Chairman Tim Cavanagh did not return calls for comment Friday afternoon.
With the Aug. 29 vote looming, Island's board appears split, with Ely and Chip Bogosian favoring a partnership, and Lang and Iversen leaning away. That leaves a swing vote in Paul Maughan, a member of the joint steering committee and thus privy for months to the details of the partnership process.
"I've yet to decide," Maughan said. "I haven't seen anything that really forces me one way or the other, but the options are narrowing down, I'll admit, in terms of what we can do or what we should do."
M a u g h a n s a i d t h a t although the other two are still in the running, Peace-Health seems like the likely choice -- that is, if Island does pick a partner.
"I'm committed to having some decision next Thursday," he said.
(c)2013 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.)
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