Tom Jensen is president and CEO of Grays Harbor Community Hospital, a position he has held since September of 2010. Prior to his time on the Harbor he worked in the health care industry for more than 20 years, as the Director of Finance at Inland Northwest Health Services, the Director of Operations at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute and as the CEO of Coulee Medical Center in Eastern Washington.
When did the hospital first start struggling so severely financially that you began to look at other options like a transition into a public hospital district, and what were some other options you considered?
We first saw the signs of a shift in our payor mix at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010. We saw the number of commercially insured patients begin to fall, with bad debt and charity care climbing at an alarming rate. This change forced us to become more efficient and reduce our costs. By 2012, we were forced into employee layoffs, these difficult cuts were made to stabilize the organization while allowing us time to review other long-term strategies. In the fall of 2012, we developed the Sole Community Hospital Coalition, with four other sole community hospitals. A bill was written in the winter of 2012 for the 2013 Legislative session. This original bill did not have a requirement of becoming a public hospital district. At that point in time, the bill did not move forward, but we were written into a budget proviso, which will give us some financial assistance.
Other options that were considered were — reducing our size to become a critical access facility, or becoming part of a larger organization. Sole community hospital was the ultimate choice for our Board of Directors; it keeps the control of the hospital local, while letting us keep the quality services that we currently offer.
Why did the hospital finally decide to look at making the transition?
During this year’s Legislative session our Sole Community Hospital Bill had a revision made that stated that GHCH had to become a public hospital to receive financial support for our Medicaid patients. This made it very clear that this was the direction our elected officials thought would be best for our community and our hospital.
If the hospital is to become public, what could the change mean for services provided or employment?
Our community and patients would not notice any change in the quality of care they receive at Grays Harbor Community Hospital. There are regulatory differences in the governing of public hospital districts; for example, we would not have volunteer board members, they would be elected by the community.
How has the process been in learning the ropes of becoming a public hospital district?
In my last CEO position in Eastern Washington I was the leader of a hospital that was a public hospital district, so I have experience working in this environment. Each structure has its advantages and disadvantages, but we have a wonderful team here on Grays Harbor, so I am confident the transition will be seamless.
What are the hospital’s major debts — bonds, for instance? What is it that voters are taking on?
The hospital has bonds outstanding at this point, but we will not know how this will come together in the end. We will work with the bond holders, public hospital district board and GHCH 501(c)3 attorneys.
Could this change the hospital’s plan for East Campus? How will it factor into the hospital district operation?
There should not be any operational change with the transition to a public hospital district, but with the election of a new board of commissioners it will be up to them to decide on the direction the district will take in the future. Over the past five years, we have continued to systematically update our East Campus. It has become a valuable multi-specialty clinic providing services to thousands of Grays Harbor residents every week.
What will the hospital’s situation be if a district isn’t formed?
If the community does not vote to support the formation of a public hospital district, we will return to our elected officials to find a permanent fix as it is associated to Medicaid reimbursement.
The hospital operates separate businesses that offer physician services, such as billing and staffing. What will happen to those?
Currently, Grays Harbor Community Hospital has a subsidiary that provides physician services called Harbor Medical Group. This group employs over 30 providers as well 60-plus support staff in the hospital and clinics from Hoquiam to Montesano. Under the direction on the new Board of Hospital Commissioners, it will be their decision on the strategic growth of this and other parts of our medical community.