Island Hospital has backed away from affiliating with the PeaceHealth medical system.
At a meeting on Aug. 29 in Mount Vernon, commissioners of the public hospital district governing Island Hospital, which operates the Orcas Medical Center in Eastsound, voted not to sign a letter of intent with Skagit Regional Health hospital and Cascade Valley Hospital to affiliate with the PeaceHealth hospital system, which operates hospitals and clinics in Bellingham and Friday Harbor.
“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 in a press release.
He did not elaborate on why the commissioners and hospital executives decided not to join the affiliation negotiations.
“Orcas Medical Center fully respects and agrees with the decision of the Island Hospital 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,” said Alison Shaw, clinic manager of Orcas Medical Center.
Island Hospital’s board will establish a community advisory committee to help them continue to seek partnerships and affiliations if they serve in the best interest of the community, enhance service quality and improve financial strength.
Just hours before the meeting, 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.
On the same day on San Juan Island, the San Juan Hospital Commission parried questions from islanders concerned that Peace Island Hospital services were being circumscribed by Catholic moral strictures expressed in the Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services.
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.
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 PeaceHealth.”
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.
All agreed with Harrington, who said “this is a bigger issue than women’s reproductive services. We need to be assertive about patient rights.”