Grays Harbor Community Hospital officials — forced to seriously consider a change in status from a private to a public institution in order to reap benefits from legislation that would provide greater medical reimbursement payments — have decided to go to voters to ask for approval to become a public hospital.
The hospital’s board of directors met Wednesday afternoon and came to the conclusion that forming a public hospital district is the “best option,” said director of public relations, David Quigg. He said the board has been working with Grays Harbor County officials learning about the process of becoming a public hospital and that it will be a multi-step process. Currently, Community is a private, non-profit institution.
“Ultimately, this will be up to a vote of the community,” he said, adding the first step is to ask voters to form the hospital district. Further down the road, they could ask for voter approval on decided boundaries or for levy funds. Quigg said he is not sure when the issue will be on a ballot, but until then the hospital will work to inform voters of the options and implications of forming or not forming a public hospital district.
One result would be that the board’s meetings would be open to the public, and the institution would be covered by state open meetings and public records laws. Patient records would still be private, of course.
The hospital had to make the decision to go public or convince Gov. Jay Inslee to use his veto powers to strike the public hospital district requirement from a bill that was approved unanimously by the House on March 7 — if they wanted to receive higher Medicaid reimbursement the bill seeks for “sole community hospitals,” or exclusive providers of health care to rural, or isolated populations.
President of the hospital’s board of directors, Pete Scroggs, previously told The Daily World that the “public option” has been something CEO Tom Jensen has been exploring in addition to other options to address the hospital’s financial problems. The board constructed a steering committee to look into the pros and cons of such a change.
Currently the hospital is facing financial struggles because it serves a large percentage of Medicaid patients without enough reimbursement from the state to cover the hospital’s costs. The legislation would allow eligible hospitals to charge Medicaid, which is administered by the state, 150 percent of the special rate.
Language added to the bill stating a hospital must be owned and operated by a state or political subdivision, those like Olympic Medical Center in Port Angles, in order to receive reimbursement, was included as a last resort, said Sen. Jim Hargrove, because the bill had no chance of passage otherwise. Hargrove, co-sponsored the bill, Senate Bill 5859, alongside Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond.
“They can become a public hospital, and basically that’s the only way I could get it out (of committee),” he said, adding as a member of the minority during a tight supplemental budget year he felt it would not pass without the language.
Other local legislators, including Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, had pushed in recent weeks for the hospital to make a decision quick and put the proposition on the ballot in November.