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Community Hospital takes first step in moving toward public hospital district

Aaron Lavinsky | The Daily World The front of Grays Harbor Community Hospital.
Aaron Lavinsky | The Daily World The front of Grays Harbor Community Hospital.

Grays Harbor Community Hospital officials announced Wednesday evening that they will take the first steps necessary to form a public hospital district.

Really, in order to get a higher reimbursement rate from the state, hospital officials had no choice in the matter.

Legislators approved a bill earlier this week that will help achieve higher medical reimbursement rates from the state.

The state House unanimously approved the measure on March 7, but with amendments requiring hospitals that get the reimbursement also qualify as a Level 3 Trauma Center, which the Aberdeen-based hospital is. The state Senate concurred with the amendment on Monday, approving it on a 46-to-3 vote. That means the legislation heads to the governor’s desk for his signature. And the only way for Community Hospital to get the increased funding is to go to the voters and form a public hospital district — or convince Gov. Jay Inslee to use his line-item veto powers to strike the hospital district requirement from the bill. More than $1 million in extra reimbursements annually is at stake for the cash-strapped hospital.

Local legislators have consistently urged the hospital to go to the voters and become a public hospital district. The hospital is currently a private, not-for-profit agency.

A press release from the hospital issued Wednesday states that the hospital’s board of directors approved moving forward with exploring the public hospital district concept and selected a steering committee “to assist in the facilitation of this involved process.”

The committee will include former county commissioner Dennis Morrisette, Tim Gibbs, CEO at Greater Grays Harbor Inc.; Grays Harbor Public Health Director Joan Brewster; current hospital board chairman Pete Scroggs; John Warring, president of the Twin Harbors Labor Council; and Dr Rob McCauley, who will serve as committee chairman.

“I admire that board,” state Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said Wednesday evening. “They’ve done the best they can. I’m grateful they’ve decided to move forward.”

The press release from hospital spokesman David Quigg states:

“Legislators are convinced that the development of a second Public Hospital District in Grays Harbor is the best option for Gray Harbor Community Hospital. Our goal is to ensure access to quality health care for our community now and into the future. Today is the first step in a multi-step process; we will have additional information available as we move forward in this exploration. Ultimately, this will be up to a vote of the community; GHCH will work to inform voters of the options and the implications of forming or not forming a Public Hospital District. During this process Grays Harbor Community Hospital will continue to support its mission to heal, comfort and serve our community with compassion.”

By state law, a hospital district can be initiated either by the hospital or through a citizen petition method. It would then go on the ballot for voter approval.

A hospital district has set boundaries. Just look east to Summit Pacific Medical Center and its related public hospital district for guidance. Grays Harbor Hospital District No. 1 consists of the old Mark Reed Hospital campus, including its existing clinic; two clinics in Elma and the new hospital in Elma. The district boundaries stretch from McCleary to Elma and was formed by the voters in 1982, according to a history of the district. The hospital just conducted public elections for three of its board of commissioners in November.

The East County hospital district levies a property tax on its residents, which the hospital uses mainly to pay off debt. But there’s no requirement that a hospital district have a property tax levy.

If Community Hospital just received voter approval to become a public hospital district they would receive an automatic boost in its reimbursement rates from the state — without voters paying a dime in additional taxes.

Of course, a hospital district would be empowered to put a levy on its residents, as well.

The steering committee will need to look at all of its options, as well as recommend boundaries. Because hospital districts can’t overlap, the biggest area Community Hospital could look at it would be encompassing the beaches to Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Cosmopolis and Montesano. But there’s been no specific talk on where the boundaries of the new hospital district would yet be — and voters within the proposed area would need to approve all that.