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Published: Monday, January 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Valley General Hospital to seek tax increase

MONROE -- Valley General Hospital, which has faced a string of multi-million dollar financial losses, will ask east Snohomish County voters to approve a tax increase in April.
Property owners in Monroe, Snohomish, Sultan, Index, Gold Bar and surrounding unincorporated areas currently are paying 13 cents per $1,000 in property valuation to support the hospital. That's among the lowest tax rates in the state for a public hospital, said Michael Fraser, the hospital's interim chief executive.
If the tax measure is approved, that taxing rate would increase to 37 cents per $1,000 in property valuation.
For the owner of a $200,000 home, that would mean boosting the hospital's annual tax bill to $74 a year, from $26.
The increase would bring in an additional $2.4 million to a hospital where financial losses last year are expected to hit about $4.5 million.
Part of those losses were due to the amount of money the hospital spent on caring for people who either had no health insurance or couldn't pay their medical bills.
The hospital had $2.1 million in costs for people without insurance last year and another $5.7 million in unpaid patient medical bills, Fraser said.
By federal law, anyone who comes to a hospital must receive medical treatment, regardless of their ability to pay.
Treatment in an emergency room is far more costly than it would be if the patient was treated at a medical clinic. However, most medical clinics don't treat patients if they don't have health insurance.
Approval of the tax increase would put the hospital on firmer financial footing, Fraser said.
The hospital also is taking a number of steps to cut costs. "We're not sitting on our hands waiting on people to give us additional tax dollars," Fraser said.
The hospital's two unions agreed to one-year wage freezes and some reduction in benefits, he said. Non-union employees have agreed to furloughs.
These and other steps will save the hospital $1.8 million this year, he said.
A business affiliation approved last month with Kirkland-based EvergreenHealth will allow the hospital to save $100,000 a year in maintenance on clinical equipment such as monitors and X-ray equipment.
Meanwhile, that affiliation will help Valley General begin to offer more services this year.
First up is opening of a primary care clinic on the hospital's campus in March. The physicians and nurse-practitioners are expected to be able to treat about 3,000 patients, Fraser said.
The hospital is also expected to offer 3-D mammogram services later this year through a mobile van operated by Evergreen.
The Monroe hospital also has hired a new chief, Eric Jensen, who will begin work on Jan. 30.
Jensen, 58, will be paid $218,000 a year. He has 25 years' experience working as a hospital executive at Washington hospitals in Forks, Ellensburg and Kittitas County.
Fraser, 69, said he came out of retirement to take the interim post with the Monroe hospital. He said he will now resume his retirement.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com
Story tags » ArlingtonHospitals & Clinics

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