EDMONDS — Swedish Providence leaders ditched plans to temporarily move OB-GYN services from Swedish Edmonds to Providence Everett after the proposal was denounced by nurses, doctors and a public health board.
On Wednesday, the company announced tentative plans to temporarily close the clinic at Swedish Edmonds and move services to the Providence Everett Pavilion for Women and Children. Providence Health and Services, a Catholic institution, merged with the secular Swedish Medical Center in 2012.
Doctors Chad Thomas, Bruce Erhart and Randy Bourne told The Daily Herald they got a call Monday morning asking them to attend a meeting a few hours later. Only a few doctors were able to attend. They learned hospital leaders were considering sending them elsewhere for six to 12 months.
Swedish leaders told Verdant Health commissioners Wednesday that they’re in the same position as many health care providers: They’re in crisis.
In the first half of 2022, the hospital lost 42 nurses, according to Swedish. Officials said the way they had been operating was financially unsustainable. The goal of consolidating services was to be proactive and address workforce shortages before things worsen, officials said. They told commissioners it would only be a temporary closure. It was set to start as soon as mid-August.
Swedish OB-GYN specialists poured into a board meeting Wednesday for the Verdant Health Commission, the public hospital district serving southwest Snohomish County. They pleaded with commissioners to stop the proposed closure.
Medical workers alleged the company had cancelled travel nurses’ contracts, which are often high-paying, short-term jobs. Those nurses were filling vacant positions and helping to keep things running smoothly, workers said. Others said some travel nurses were trying to get hired full time, but never heard back from Human Resources.
Verdant Health commissioners delivered a resounding condemnation of the Swedish proposal.
They voted Wednesday to oppose the reduction of services.
The hospital district has leased the former Stevens Hospital to Swedish since 2010. The lease requires Providence Swedish to seek approval from the hospital district commissioners before making any decisions, including those that could eliminate services.
According to a Thursday press release, Verdant was exploring options to ensure Providence Swedish honors the agreement.
“After listening and considering the impact, we have decided that we will not be temporarily relocating women’s services to Providence Swedish Everett,” Darren Redick, Providence Swedish North Puget Sound chief executive said in a statement late Thursday. “We are grateful for the engagement of Public Hospital District #2, our caregivers, and our medical staff during this process.”
On Friday, Verdant applauded the change of heart from Providence Swedish.
Providence Swedish “made the right decision to live up to its commitment to keep these services in our community where they can be accessed by residents,” said Dr. Jim Distelhorst, president of the health board, in the press release.
According to the release, Verdant commissioners will meet with Providence Swedish leadership to “explore opportunities for enhanced communications and support for the caregivers and medical staff who provide essential care to patients.”
In a March press release announcing the rebranding as “Providence Swedish,” the company told patients “Providence and Swedish will continue to honor one another’s distinct identities.”
The release continued: “Swedish will remain a secular organization, and Providence will remain a faith-based organization. That means Swedish locations will continue to provide certain services that may not be available at Providence locations according to the original affiliation agreement.”
Verdant Health Commissioner Deana Knutsen said she worried that moving services from a secular to a faith-based clinic would affect the services provided.
“There’s a reproductive health piece,” she said. “And by changing it to Providence we are losing that secular definition that allows us to provide services that Providence doesn’t want to provide.”
Before the reversal, Swedish doctors told The Herald they don’t know how the move would affect procedures currently offered in Edmonds, like sterilizations and other reproductive care. Providence does not perform abortions.
Transferring services elsewhere would not be entirely unprecedented, Dr. Bourne said. Early in the pandemic, Swedish Edmonds sent everyone on the OB floor to Providence Everett for a few weeks, anticipating the need for a hospital dedicated to coronavirus patients.
“What we learned from the last time we went to Everett … was patients also don’t get the message,” Dr. Erhart said. “And they also show up here, and during that time — those seven weeks — there was at least one person a week who still showed up here to deliver (a baby). And their care was provided by ER physicians and nurses, and then they were transported somewhere. So that’s still going to go on. And that’s an unnecessary drop in standard of care, in my opinion.”