Concerns raised over pending PeaceHealth merger

By Steve WehrlyJournal reporter

Like a latter-day E.F. Hutton avatar, when Jim Barnhart starts talking, people listen.

After an hour of various reports and announcements, the Aug. 22 Hospital Commission meeting moved into high gear when PeaceIsland Hospital CEO Jim Barnhart started talking about a newly proposed joint operating agreement between Peace Health Systems, the parent of PeaceIsland Hospital, and Catholic Health Initiatives of Engelwood, Colo.

Barnhart said the agreement would not be finalized until sometime in 2013 and that it is expected to result in joint operations of nine Peace Health System hospitals in Washington, Oregon and California and eight Franciscan Hospitals in Washington and Oregon.

The joint operation would be run by a new board with members drawn from both organizations, and would itself be part of the Catholic Health Initiatives system of hospitals and clinics operating in 18 states with more than $10 billion in revenue and $400 million in operating income.

Under questioning from Monica Harrington and Sharon Kivisto, Barnhart repeated statements reported in this newspaper in July ("Peace Health vows no cutbacks in care", July 4, pg. 1) that PeaceIsland hospital and clinic would continue to provide all women’s health care services now provided at Inter-Island Medical Center.

Monica Harrington, a women’s health care activist and co-chair of Washington Women for Choice, was skeptical, telling Barnhart, the Hospital Commission and the audience of ten, that women on San Juan Island, where she lives part of the year, must be assured that the tax money collected from all the people in San Juan County will not be used to restrict women’s health care rights or advance the religious agenda or doctrines of any church.

After the meeting, Barnhart stated, “The proposed partnership will have no adverse impact on either the PeaceIsland startup or on the commitment to provide the full range of women’s health care service previously provided by Inter-Island Medical Center.”

Barnhart said the he would be providing a written statement in the next few days confirming his assertions.


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