Hospital measure passes by a wide margin

Grays Harbor voters have overwhelmingly elected to take over Grays Harbor Community Hospital, triggering increased financial help from the state and likely a property tax levy for hospital operation. Now the question is, what happens next?

The ballot measure creating Grays Harbor County Public Hospital District 2 was passing with 61.42 percent of the votes after the initial vote counting Tuesday. The next vote count is expected Friday, when mailed ballots that hadn’t arrived by election day will be tallied.

The measure even passed in areas where dissent for the district was loudest — receiving 708 yes votes in Ocean Shores precincts, or 50.93 percent, and 413 votes in Montesano precincts, or 51.09 percent.

A large majority of voters in the county’s two largest cities, Aberdeen and Hoquiam, voted in favor of the measure. It received 1,577 yes votes in Hoquiam, or 75.94 percent, and 2,186 yes votes in Aberdeen, or 72.14 percent.

“It’s all a little surreal,” said Grays Harbor Community Hospital CEO Tom Jensen. “This means we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Election results won’t be official until Aug. 19, when the Grays Harbor County Auditor’s Office certifies them. The new public hospital district won’t officially be created until then, and the new hospital district commissioners elected on Tuesday won’t hold office until then either.

The new hospital district will include all of Grays Harbor County except for Oakville and the East County area currently served by Public Hospital District 1, or Summit Pacific Medical Center.

The new board will be composed of seven members. Maryann Welch, Armando Juarez, Miles Longenbaugh, Andrew Bickar, Pete Scroggs, Robert Torgerson and Dr. Ryan Farrer all have the most votes for their respective positions. More information about the hospital commissioner races is included in a separate story.

Commissioners will typically serve 6-year terms, but the commissioners’ first terms will be staggered in length so that the terms don’t all expire at the same time. Term lengths will be assigned based on the number of votes each commissioner receives, with the winning commissioner who earned the most votes receiving the longest term and the winning commissioner who earned the least votes receiving the shortest term.

The next Grays Harbor County Public Hospital District 2 election will take place in 2016, and two commission seats will be up for election. Another election will take place in 2018, when two more commissioners will be up for election. The three remaining commissioners will be up for election in 2020.

But there will be a lot of work to do during the two weeks before Aug. 19, Jensen said. He plans to reach out to all of the newly-elected commissioners to set a meeting date and help educate them about running a public hospital district.

Three of the commissioners already have some experience in the medical field — Scroggs is currently president of the hospital board, Welch is a member of the board and Farrer is the hospital’s chief of staff. Farrer’s position also gives him a seat on the hospital board.

All three will resign from the hospital board before taking their places as commissioners, Jensen said. The seats belonging to Walsh and Scroggs will remain empty.

Farrer will remain the hospital’s chief of staff, but his seat on the board will be filled by another staff representative, Dr. Anne Marie Wong, Jensen said.

“That’s a decision the board made,” Jensen said. “We didn’t think it would be ethical for them to serve on both.”

The Grays Harbor Community Hospital board and the Public Hospital District 2 board will have to work together over coming months to transfer the hospital’s assets to the new district, Jensen said. The old board will likely be dissolved by the end of the year. Grays Harbor Community Hospital needs to be a public entity by Jan. 1 in order to collect higher Medicaid reimbursements as early as possible.

“We don’t have a choice,” Jensen said. “This needs to be done by then.”

The asset transfer will be made with the help of lawyers who have previously worked with other public hospital districts, he said. He plans to hire a lawyer to help train the new board members in coming weeks.

“I hope to have someone there at that first meeting,”Jensen said. “That should get them going. Then they can make the decision to keep that lawyer or hire someone new.”

He said he hopes to schedule the first meeting for sometime at the end of August — and since the district is a public entity, the meeting will be open to the public. Then, the new commissioners will decide on a board structure and elect leadership.

The commissioners won’t likely begin making decisions about the asset transfers during the first meeting, he said.

Passage of the measure also affects Summit Pacific Medical Center, included in Grays Harbor Public Hospital District 1. Summit Pacific’s board recently approved a resolution to add a measure to the November ballot that seeks to add Montesano to District 1.

However, the measure would be pointless now because Montesano is already spoken for, said Grays Harbor County Auditor Vern Spatz.

“It’s not going to do anything, but we can’t take it off the ballot unless they tell us to,” Spatz said.

Summit Pacific CEO Renee Jensen said she’s not sure what the board will decide to do, but the matter will likely be addressed in the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 28.

Spatz said there’s no firm deadline for when the decision would need to be made, but the county will send out ballots to military and overseas voters Sept. 20. They’ll also need time to format and print the ballots. “Once they’re printed, there’s nothing we can do,” Spatz said.

The push for the creation of the new hospital district began only months ago when legislators passed a bill designed to give higher Medicaid reimbursement rates to some rural hospitals, called Sole Community Hospitals, on the condition that they are governed as public hospital districts.

The original bill would have increased Medicaid reimbursement to these hospitals by 25 percent. However, the Senate Ways &Means committee later amended the bill to exclude all non-public hospitals, giving the legislation a better chance of passage in the House and Senate — and putting Community Hospital, a private non-profit business, in a bind.

In order to access this additional funding, the hospital would have to go public.


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