Arlington hospital, Catholic organization may pair up

Cascade Valley Hospital, the last independent public hospital in Snohomish County, has decided to pursue a business deal with Catholic PeaceHealth.

Cascade’s possible partner has hospitals and medical clinics in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, including St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham.

Although much remains to be ironed out about the specifics of the deal, the hospital’s five elected board members voted unanimously Thursday to pursue a deal with PeaceHealth.

The decision came despite some public opposition to the tax-supported hospital affiliating with a Catholic health care organization, due to that faith’s opposition to birth control, abortion and assisted suicide for those who are terminally ill.

Last week, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a formal opinion saying that tax-supported hospitals have to provide access to birth control and abortion services.

The opinion did not specify whether these services must be provided on-site or whether hospitals could contract with other organizations.

The opinion was based on a state initiative approved in 1991 that said residents have a fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control or abortion.

Clark Jones, Cascade’s chief executive, said the hospital board is very aware of and accepts its responsibility to assure access to women’s reproductive health issues.

“As we fashion a deal with PeaceHealth, the hospital district will have to assure that those services continue to be provided,” he said.

Jones said if this or any other issue becomes a stumbling block, the hospital can back out of the deal.

One of the benefits of the pursuing a deal with PeaceHealth was “its vision and mission of providing health care services locally in the community,” Jones said.

The move by the Arlington hospital follows a wave of mergers and other business partnerships among hospitals, both locally and nationally.

In Snohomish County, the former Stevens Hospital in Edmonds joined up in 2010 with Seattle-based Swedish Health Services. And in a move involving two of the state’s largest health care organizations, last year Swedish joined up with Providence Health &Services.

The consolidation is aimed in part at reining in health care costs and streamlining services for patients who are referred from one health care organization to specialists or hospitals in another.

Cascade board member Tim Cavanagh said that a business deal with PeaceHealth could bring new services, such as cardiology, to the Arlington community that the local hospital can’t do on its own.

The move will also help assure the hospital’s future, he said.

Cavanagh said he believes that if the move to join up with a larger health care organization wasn’t made that the Arlington hospital as it now exists wouldn’t be around in three to five years. Instead, it might only be able to offer limited services, such as an emergency room or urgent care services, he said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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