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PeaceHealth suspend negotiations

By STEVE WEHRLY Islands Sounder Reporter for the Journal of the San Juans
April 11, 2013 · Updated 3:35 PM
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PeaceHealth, the parent organization of Peace Island Medical Center, has suspended joint venture negotiations with health care giant Catholic Health Initiatives of Denver, Colorado.

The joint press release issued April 3 stated that the two operators of health clinics and hospitals “were unable to develop an integrated model that would provide the desired benefits and serve the best interests of both organizations.”

In August 2012, CHI and PeaceHealth entered into a non-binding agreement “to create an innovative partnership that would allow both organizations to strengthen and extend their healing ministries,” the two non-profit health care providers said at the time. In late 2012, PeaceHealth representatives told the San Juan County Hospital Commission that a definitive agreement with CHI could be reached early in 2013.

“CHI and PeaceHealth will remain actively engaged in exploring other opportunities to work together to strengthen their respective ministries in the Pacific Northwest,” the news release noted.

Peace Island Medical Center operations or policies will not be affected by the suspension of negotiations between PeaceHealth and CHI, according to PeaceHealth Chief Administrative Officer Jim Barnhart.

“Business continues as usual here,” he said.

Peter Adler, Sr. Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at PeaceHealth, who was a participant in the talks, said that the two parties “reached an agreement on many things” but in the end “we could not show how the joint venture would lower costs” enough to justify forming the joint venture.

Adler said that “suspended” meant “ended”: “What we have ended is the work of forming this innovative 50-50 partnership.” He did not rule out a future relationship with CHI, but said “we’ve received no offers from CHI” regarding the organization’s seven Oregon and Washington hospitals.

PeaceHealth spokeswoman Jennie Ulum earlier told the Vancouver Columbian, “PeaceHealth is still moving forward with our grown strategies, and we’re still open to partnership discussions” with others, including Catholic Health Initiatives.

The potential agreement stirred fears among many islanders that CHI’s adherence to health care directives issued by American Catholic bishops might result in restrictions on women’s health care services and end-of-life care at the newly constructed Peace Island Medical Center, which opened in Friday Harbor in late 2012.

Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union entered into the fray, suggesting that public money should not be used for religion-based hospitals under the Washington Constitution and state statutes and that adherence to the medical ethical directives promulgated by the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s conference might violate the Washington women’s reproductive rights law.

PeaceHealth’s Ulum also was quoted by the Columbian that the decision to suspend negotiations “had nothing to do at all” with the faith-based ethical policies of Catholic Health Initiatives or PeaceHealth. Adler added that PeaceHealth insisted “from early on” that any agreement must specify “CHI would not have the power or the right under the partnership to force PeaceHealth hospitals” to change its policies regarding the bishop’s ethical and religious medical directives. Asked if this demand may have been a factor in the decision to suspend negotiations, Adler said he did not speak for CHI, but it was not from PeaceHealth’s standpoint.

Adler pointed out that “PeaceHealth has a very rare and unique relationship with the Catholic church” because “no PeaceHealth assets are owned by the church.” Adler would not comment further on the details of the church-PeaceHealth relationship. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, the founding order of the PeaceHealth hospital system, have a history of promoting women’s health care rights, but their hospitals do not permit elective abortions and leave contraception questions, including vasectomies and tubal ligations, to the doctor-patient relationship.

CHI operates more than 120 various health care facilities in 17 states, according to www.catholichealthinit.org, including seven Franciscan Health System hospitals in Washington and Oregon. PeaceHealth, headquartered in Vancouver, Wash., operates nine hospitals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska that would have entered into an unspecified joint operating agreement with the seven CHI-run hospitals in Oregon and Washington.

CHI is the second-largest faith-based health system in the U.S., with more than 80,000 employees and $10.7 billion in annual revenues. PeaceHealth has about $2.3 billion in annual revenues.

 

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