Whidbey General Hospital says again, partnership not in future

With Whidbey General Hospital asking voters to approve a bond to pay for an expansion, one critic is arguing for hospital leaders to try something different.

Mark Borden, one-time hospital emergency room physician turned staunch Whidbey General critic, thinks it would be a godsend if the hospital would partner with a larger company, such as Providence Health and Services.

“It would make the difference between a crummy hospital with a terrible reputation in our community and a good hospital,” said Borden, a Coupeville resident.

He blasted the leadership of current CEO Tom Tomasino, accusing him of dismantling the medical staff. He said the changes outlined in the hospital’s proposal, which includes single patient rooms, are unnecessary.

“Voting ‘No’ opens the door on hospital reform,” Borden said.

Whidbey General leaders, on the other hand, said such partnerships would sacrifice local control and could lead to a loss of health services and jobs on Whidbey Island.

Borden has an acrimonious relationship with Whidbey General Hospital, where he had worked in the emergency room for years. In 2011, his position with Northwest Emergency Physicians, the company Whidbey General Hospital contracts with for emergency room doctors, ended. Since then he has been working at Swedish Medical Center. He is also running what he describes as a patient advocacy website.

Whidbey General Hospital is asking voters to approve a $50 million bond that will fund construction of a new wing located on the south end of its Coupeville campus. That wing will include 39 single-patient rooms and space for future growth. The proposal needs to pass by a 60 percent supermajority for approval and ballots need to be postmarked by Tuesday in order to be counted. Mark Borden

The idea of having another entity run the hospital isn’t new. Capella Healthcare in 2011 wanted to take over operations, but following a lengthy public meeting where a majority of residents criticized the plan, the five-member, publicly elected board of commissioners rejected the for-profit company’s proposal.

“Our preference would be to stay independent,” said Anne Tarrant, president of the Whidbey General Hospital board of commissioners.

She said the board is concerned the hospital could lose services off island and jobs if Whidbey General partners with another company.

“When someone affiliates, they are going to look at economies of scale,” Tarrant said. She added that the hospital also runs primary care facilities and rural health clinics and the future of those could be called into question if the hospital partners.

Other hospitals in the region have affiliated or have considered affiliating with other companies. Providence affiliated with Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

Island Hospital, which operates in Anacortes, is waiting on a decision about affiliating with a larger hospital system. The Island Hospital Board of Commissioners is forming a community advisory committee to explore the issue, said Dennis Richards, spokesman for Island Hospital. He expects a decision in at least six months, but it could take longer.

As for the hospital’s reputation, Rose sent a laundry list of the accomplishments the hospital has made under the current leadership:

• Whidbey General received an outstanding achievement award from the Commission on Cancer, which is one of 79 hospitals to receive such an honor.

• The hospital has been recognized a dozen times by the Rural Healthcare Quality Network.

• A new electronic health record system, new MRI machine, CT scanner and a breast MRI scanner has been installed.

• Reduced infection rates and improved quality and patient satisfaction scores.

The current bond is identical to the proposal hospital leaders took to voters two years ago. Back then, 55.49 percent of the voters approved the bond election, which was short of the 60 percent supermajority required for approval.

Since then, Rose said in an email that “citizens, doctors, nurses and administrators have spoken to neighbors about the benefits of the bond and how it will improve quality of care on our island.”

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