Hospitals seek public input on possible affiliation

MOUNT VERNON — A community forum conducted by the joint boards of commissioners for the Cascade Valley, Island and Skagit Valley hospitals in Mount Vernon on Wednesday, July 31, drew an estimated 500 members of the public, who came to receive information and provide comments about a possible affiliation between the three already-partnered nonprofit community hospitals and a larger health care system.

Representatives of all four nonprofit health care systems — Providence/Swedish, Virginia Mason, University of Washington Medicine and PeaceHealth — were present at the forum, although Heather Logan, assistant administrator of the Cascade Valley Hospital and Clinics, acknowledged that University of Washington Medicine and PeaceHealth have formed “a loose affiliation” since the four health care systems submitted their request proposals to the three hospitals on April 26.

“There’s still some concern about two of those potential affiliation partners being Catholic health care systems,” Logan said, citing attendees’ expressed reservations about Providence/Swedish and PeaceHealth restricting certain services according to church doctrine. “I suspect some people were disappointed by the lack of details that we could provide on the other aspects of this potential affiliation, but there are many details we don’t have ourselves yet. We did remind them that, if they end up disagreeing with our decision, all of our commissioners are elected.”

Cascade Valley Hospital and Clinics CEO Clark Jones elaborated on Providence/Swedish and PeaceHealth’s approaches to reproductive and end-of-life issues.

“They do adhere to patients’ advance directive wishes,” Jones said. “Both organizations are involved in hospice, and while they will not provide elective abortions or assisted suicide within their facilities, they do allow their physicians to make those referrals.”

From here, the process toward a potential affiliation remains formidable, not in the least because of the amount of data that Jones noted the three hospital boards will have to go through, in addition to the input they’ve received from the public during more than one forum.

“We’re going to be asking a lot of clarifying questions, and doing a tremendous amount of due diligence,” said Jones, who nonetheless described the boards as being “on the verge of a decision, based on what the best opportunity is for our communities, and what would be most beneficial to our communities. Each facility could conduct a separate negotiation on the nature of their affiliation, which could be different for each organization.”

“It’s been great that the public has been so open with letting us know what’s on their minds,” Logan said. “It actually makes our decision a bit easier.”

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