Contract negotiations 'finalized' with PeaceHealth; San Juan hospital district commission discusses contract Wednesday

Contract negotiations have been “finalized” between PeaceHealth, San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1 and the independent San Juan Community Hospital Committee.

The hospital district commission is expected to discuss the contract’s status at its meeting Wednesday, 5:30 p.m., in the Frank Wilson EMS Building. The meeting is open to the public.

“We’ve finalized negotiating a contract with PeaceHealth,” Hospital Committee co-chairman Tom Cable said Friday. “We’re at the point where we want to start bringing the community into the process.”

Cable said the next step is “a full-blown campaign to get the community informed,” followed by contract approval by the hospital district commissioners, approval by Whatcom Region PeaceHealth, and approval by the PeaceHealth system board.

“We’re targeting that to be done in March,” Cable said.

The contract would give PeaceHealth, a non-profit healthcare system that operates St. Joseph Hospital, the authority to operate a medical center on San Juan Island.

The San Juan Community Hospital Committee is a private group that is advocating the construction of a new medical center, estimated to cost $29.8 million. The new medical center would replace the current one, which proponents say is aging and is too small to accommodate islanders’ needs.

They say the new medical center would provide many medical services for which islanders must now travel to the mainland.

Inter Island Medical Center Administrator Beth Gieger has said that a hospital would receive greater reimbursement for services from Medicare than the current medical center, which is classified as a clinic.

Dr. J. Michael Edwards, a hospital district commissioner and co-chairman of the hospital committee, has said the current medical center is unsustainable, and that maintaining the current level of clinic-based service wouldn’t be possible without increasing taxes.

The situation is going to get worse, Edwards said in an earlier interview. “We’re facing a 16 percent Medicare fee-for-service reduction in 2009.”

According to a letter of intent approved by PeaceHealth and the hospital commission last summer:

— PeaceHealth would assume full operational and financial responsibility for the medical center, would invest in the necessary equipment to run it and would establish a governing board to oversee it. The governing board would require a majority of its members to be residents of the hospital district.

— The hospital district would work toward securing $10 million in philanthropic donations to make the endeavor possible, would cooperate with PeaceHealth as they begin to work closely with San Juan Island’s existing clinic, Inter Island Medical Center; and would contribute about $12.8 million in tax money collected through its existing levy toward construction of the project.

The proposed medical center would be built on a 10- to 11-acre site yet to be acquired. The land purchase would be made with proceeds from the sale of the Inter Island Medical Center site.

Inpatient surgery would not be performed at the new medical center. Heart attack and stroke patients would still be taken to mainland hospitals. Babies would still be born on the mainland. Services that would be provided: Outpatient surgery, chemotherapy, cardiology, diagnostics and imaging, gastroenterology, oncology, rheumatology, and treatment for body injuries and neurological degenerative disorders.

Patients could stay in the medical center for observation and short-term care after surgeries. There would be 10 hospital beds.

The medical center would be about 42,242 square feet, including 24,492 square feet of clinic space for doctors and specialists. Inpatient and outpatient space would comprise 14,250 square feet; the emergency department would comprise 3,500 square feet. The staff would grow from 25.3 full-time equivalents to 44.5.

The medical center would be governed by a local governing board. How the board members would be selected has not been determined.

PeaceHealth is a Bellevue-based non-profit healthcare system serving communities in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. Sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, PeaceHealth has provided care to Northwest communities for more than a century. It owns St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham.


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