Public Speaks Out About Hospital Sale

SPOKANE — As a pair of Spokane hospitals move slowly from local non-profit ownership to the hands of a national for-profit corporation, Spokane citizens are making sure state officials hear what they have to say about the pending sale.

Some grumblings have been heard around town in light of a February layoff
that saw 130 hospital workers lose their jobs, but most of the comments at a Wednesday morning public hearing – the first of four such sessions this week – were positive regarding the potential change of ownership.

For those concerned about the sale, the main point of contention seems to surround the level of community based medical services that Tennessee buyers Community Health Services will be able to provide should the sale go through.

For decades, the Deaconness and Spokane Valley hospitals have focused on a variety of community health programs ranging from church based initiatives to outpatient care for seniors, and several others. However, recent financial troubles by local owners Empire Health Services forced the company to slash several of these programs and locals have voiced their desires to see these services return to prominence.

Wednesday’s public hearing was held at the Spokane Convention Center and focused on the sale of Deaconness Medical Center to Community Health Services, while Thursday’s forum will be held at the Mirebau Park Hotel and Convention Center and focuses on the sale of the Valley hospital.

The hearings are legally mandated as a procedural step before any sale can be finalized.

“After the hearings, all comments will be considered during the agency review of the proposed purchase,” the Washington Department of Health said through a recent release
. “The state health department plans to make a decision on the sale as quickly as possible while thoroughly considering all written submissions and public comment.”

Last summer, Empire Health announced their intention to sell the Valley and Deconness Medical Centers to Community Health Services, the largest hospital administrations system in the country, a for-profit organization based in Tennessee.

The agreement was signed on October 10, 2007, subject to approval by the state Department of Health and the Attorney Generals office. That process was expected to take four to six months, but now appears it will last at least through the summer.

While some are concerned about the change of ownership, local administrators have maintained confidence that the hospital will function much the same, but in a more fiscally realistic way under Community Health’s ownership.

“CHS commitment is to provide the same level of charity care as Empire Health Services currently provides the community,” EHS Board member Michael Senske said last June when the tentative deal was struck.