At almost the same time on Thursday, Aug. 29, Island Hospital backed away from affiliating with PeaceHealth medical system while the San Juan Hospital Commission parried questions and comments from islanders concerned that services at Peace Island Medical Center were being circumscribed by Catholic moral strictures expressed in the Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services.
Just hours earlier, PeaceHealth announced a reduction in force of 500 jobs as the three-state health care system struggled with revenue shortfalls of $130 million in its Washington operations.
At a meeting in Mount Vernon, the commissioners of the public hospital district governing Island Hospital, which operates the Orcas Medical Center in Eastsound, voted not to join Skagit Regional Health hospital and Cascade Valley Hospital in signing a “letter of intent” to affiliate with the PeaceHealth hospital system, which operates hospitals and clinics in Bellingham and Friday Harbor.
Details of the letter of intent to negotiate a contract were not immediately available, nor was an explanation of the University of Washington health care system’s participation in the new alliance. UW Medicine and PeaceHealth are negotiating a proposed collaboration involving referrals between the two systems and provision of medical and educational services by UW Medicine.
“Our board of commissioners has worked very hard to make the best decision for this community to retain and grow quality health-care services for our patients,” said Vince Oliver, Island Hospital CEO. The press release did not elaborate the reasons the hospital district commissioners and hospital executives decided not to join the affiliation negotiations.
Alison Shaw, clinic manager at the Orcas Medical Center, commented on the action of Island Hospital, which operates OMC under contract with the Orcas Medical Foundation, which owns the clinic: “OMC fully respects and agrees with the decision of the IH Board of Commissioners, who went to great lengths to listen carefully not only to the communities in and around Anacortes, but also in the San Juans. Although it appears that a decision to affiliate is deferred until a later date, the decision yesterday demonstrates the Board of Commissioner’s commitment to the hospital, its clinics, and the community in providing the full range of services to its patients as provided under Washington State law.”
On San Juan Island, meanwhile, hospital district commissioners responded cautiously to the recent opinion of the Washington Attorney General on provision of reproductive services by public hospital districts.
None of the five commissioners would say what they thought the AG opinion requires of hospital districts in general or Peace Island Hospital specifically.
Commissioner Rosanna O’Donnell said the issue “comes down to interpretation” of the opinion, concluding later that “I need to be told by our attorney what to do.”
Chairwoman Lenore Bayuk said that attorney Bradley Berg, who had represented the district in the negotiations creating Peace Island Hospital, was preparing an analysis of the opinion for the hospital district association which the San Juan County commission would be guided by.
Commissioner Michael Edwards insisted he and the hospital district would hold Peace Island accountable for the services required by state law. “When we obtain an opinion, we will act,” he said.
Under the 50-year contract between the hospital district and the PeaceHealth system, about $1 million dollars in property tax revenues are provided to Peace Island Medical Center for health care services to islanders.H
A standing-room-only group of islanders urged the commission to advocate for the islanders who elect the commissioners and pay the taxes. Charles Richardson told the commission, “I need you to represent me with Peace Health.”
Monica Harrington told the commission that the opinion, state law and the state constitution were clear that religious directives from the Catholic bishops “must not restrict access to health care services.”
Susan Dehlendorf (“Be open to doing something different”), Barbara Cox (“The death with dignity option must be available here”, Gay Wilmerding and a half-dozen other islanders expressed concern with the hospital commission’s policies and actions.
Many in the audience seemed to agree with Harrington, who said “this is a bigger issue than women’s reproductive services. We need to be assertive about patient rights.