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Possible hospital partners in play

Possible hospital partners in play

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG

Sequim Gazette

Three peninsula hospitals are together looking for a "tertiary affiliate," a big-time partner to help improve medical care for local patients. So far, however, they can't agree on who that partner should be.

The commissioners of Olympic Medical Center, Forks Community Hospital and Jefferson Healthcare met in formal session at Olympic Memorial Hospital in Port Angeles on Wednesday, Nov. 10, to compare notes on the seven major medical centers that responded to a request for information sent out in early September.

OMC's CEO Eric Lewis said all seven responses were "well done. I was very impressed."

That has made the decision all the more difficult.

To each his own

Each of the hospital's commissions raised issues unique to its circumstances. Jefferson Healthcare Hospital Commissioner Jill Buhler said Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton "has to be a player" because of its proximity to Jefferson, noting its patients already are "bouncing back and forth" between the two facilities. The two hospitals also share doctors.

OMC Commissioner Jim Leskinovitch didn't share Buhler's enthusiasm, saying the choice of tertiary partner should be based in large measure on the quantity of medical care they provide. "Harrison wouldn't be my first choice," he said.

OMC Commissioner John Miles agreed, saying, "I understand Jefferson's point, but (Harrison) isn't a tertiary facility. If we want to send a patient somewhere, we want to send them to where they'll get the best care. I think that's probably one of the big ones in the city."

While noting they still are early in their considerations, the members of the Forks commission said their patients prefer to avoid trips "across the water." That weighs heavily against the four Seattle hospitals and makes the two Tacoma hospitals less attractive.

OMC commission secretary Jim Cammack suggested the hospital commissions might approach Harrison Medical Center officials to see if they would be interested in joining the three in seeking a tertiary partner.

The CEOs of the three hospitals were directed to continue gathering information on the seven potential partners and to report back to the commissions for more discussion.

Staying independent

Lewis said the tertiary affiliate would provide a number of useful services including those "third-level services" OMC can't provide, such as open-heart surgery, neurosurgery, care for severe burns and neonatal intensive care.

He said utilizing the tertiary affiliate would be up to patients but if they choose that option, they would receive excellent, cost-effective service.

Lewis also said a larger affiliate could help OMC meet other challenges including the electronic medical record-keeping requirements and other mandates in the new federal health care law. The tertiary associate also would be involved in creating a strategic vision for the area.

Commissioners for all three hospitals repeatedly noted their first priority is to remain independent and locally controlled. Patients and doctors, too, will retain their full range of choices. Cammack reiterated the hospital's commitment to providing options. "Where you go is up to you and your doctor."

Buhler said the potential tertiary partners "all recognized the importance of us being independent and sending the patients back to us."

The seven facilities under consideration are Swedish Medical Center, Franciscan Health Systems, Harrison Medical Center, MultiCare, Providence Health & Services, University of Washington and Virginia Mason Medical Center.

Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.

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