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Harrison awaits word on affiliation
Department of Health officials in Olympia said Wednesday that a directive order by Gov. Jay Inslee that calls for the review the state’s certificate of need process won’t affect the pending affiliation of Harrison Medical Center with the Franciscan Health System of Tacoma.
Spokesman Tim Church said that because the Harrison affiliation was already in progress it will be judged based on the rules in place when it was filed. The department received the application on June 20.
“The Harrison application will move forward,” Church said. “What the Governor has done will not affect it.”
On Monday, Gov. Inslee ordered the state Department of Health to “modernize” its certificate of need process, Church said.
“It’s not an overhaul,” he said. “There are just things that need to be updated to reflect the high number affiliations and mergers that are taking place.”
The governor stated in his order that the certificate of need process has not keep pace with the number of health-system combinations taking place. He said the department needs to study how affiliations, corporate restructuring, mergers and other arrangements are resulting in outcomes similar to sales, purchase and leases of hospitals, especially when control changes hands.
Harrison officials reacted by issuing a statement on Wednesday.
“At Harrison, we have not received any indication at this point that Governor Inslee’s executive order will have any impact on the Department of Health’s review of our agreement,” said Jacquie Goodwill, director of marketing and communications. “The affiliation between Harrison Medical Center and Franciscan Health System will not change any of the medical services currently offered.”
Under current law those involved in affiliations often request a determination of non-reviewability. That eliminates the need for the certificate of need process which allows for more public comment.
In the case of the proposed Harrison - Franciscan affiliation, that request was made and is currently under review by the Department of Health which has until mid July to make a ruling.
Church said most large affiliations will be awarded the non-reviewability status and the affiliations will follow. However, he said there is no decision yet on the Harrison affiliation.
In the case where the department says a certificate of need must take place, those generally involve medical facilities that have been sold, or where new construction will take place.
At issue with the Harrison-Franciscan affiliation is the joining of a secular medical facility with a religiously-based hospital system. Franciscan is part of the Catholic Health Systems in the U.S. and its hospitals and clinics must abide by the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives which prohibit abortions and medically-assisted suicides.
Throughout the affiliation process, Harrison CEO Scott Bosch has said that when the affiliation goes forward, Harrison will continue to provide the services that it does now. Those include medically-needed abortions for the life of the mother and counseling on end-of-life decisions. Harrison does not do elective abortions now, or assisted suicides.
But some, including a nation group called MergerWatch, are concerned about the number of hospital affiliations and mergers happening and the limiting of medical services, especially for women.
Sheila Reynerstone, advocacy coordinator for MergerWatch, said based on previous cases, she thinks the affiliation will probably go through without a certificate of need.
“The regulatory process should be the avenue that the public has to voice their concerns,” she said. “It’s apparent that this is being cut off.”
Reynerstone said that she supports what the governor is doing to try to update the certificate of need process, but is disappointed that it won’t affect the Harrison situation.
“Hospitals are community assets,” she said. “Sure, this is a combining of two private companies. But, when it so affects the ability of residents in the area to receive health care, it becomes a public issue.”
Reynerstone said she’s been watching affiliations and mergers for the past 15 years and isn’t ready to “take the CEO’s word for it.”
“It’s a little tricky,” she said. “Promises are broken and what’s said before the mergers happen isn’t always what happens after the fact.”
Scott Thompson, manager of media relations and corporate communications for Franciscan Health System, issued a statement on Wednesday.
“We are still awaiting approval from the Washington State Department of Health on our affiliation agreement. We have not received any indication at this point that Governor Inslee’s Executive Order will have any impact on the Department of Health’s review of our agreement.
“The Governor noted in his order that, ‘we have not identified any situations in which Washingtonians have been denied access as a result of those mergers and affiliations.’
“The affiliation between Harrison Medical Center and Franciscan Health System will not change any of the medical services currently offered to residents of Kitsap County and we believe this agreement will enhance health care services for the entire Olympic Peninsula.”