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Proposed hospital district will include Montesano

A steering committee hoping to convert Grays Harbor Community Hospital into a public hospital district has recommended that the potential hospital district’s boundaries go west from Elma and head all the way to the beaches.

State law prevents overlapping hospital districts or else the proposal might have included the entire county, Community Hospital spokesman David Quigg said. The existing Hospital District No. 1 include the cities of McCleary and Elma and the area in between.

Under the steering committee’s proposal, only the Oakville area wouldn’t be in a hospital district, Quigg said.

Quigg said it was important to the steering committee to include the beaches because Grays Harbor Community Hospital in Aberdeen is the closest hospital. And, although Montesano residents might be using Summit Pacific Medical Center more, they still use Community Hospital, as well, Quigg said.

“We don’t just service Aberdeen,” Quigg said. “We service the entire county. We’re the county’s only Level 3 trauma center. We feel we’re the county’s hospital. … We think Summit Pacific Medical Center is great. People in Montesano have a choice when going to the emergency room for a sprain, but for a serious injury or illness, they still come to Community Hospital.”

As recentl y as last month, as Summit Pacific Medical Center CEO Renée Jensen was celebrating the one-year birthday of her new hospital, she had talked about the benefits the Montesano area was reaping from the closer hospital. Jensen said she and her staff were starting to accrue data to see if it might make sense to one day annex the Montesano area into Hospital District No. 1. That would not be possible if Montesano was lumped into a new Aberdeen-centric hospital district.

Volunteers will begin gathering signatures for the effort this week, Quigg said. Petitions will be at Community Hospital and at several businesses.

In order to get higher Medicaid reimbursement rates from the state, the current non-profit hospital must convert into a hospital district. Legislation signed last week by Gov. Jay Inslee allows the higher rates. The hospital would reap more than $1 million a year in extra revenue by just converting into a hospital district — and not even implementing a property tax levy.

A flier being given out at the hospital on Tuesday stated, “How much is your health worth?” and suggested a property tax hike at 50 cents per thousand of a property’s assessed value. That would mean a $50 property tax increase on a $100,000 home. Quigg said Tuesday night that those figures haven’t been firmed up yet. The steering committee had not decided yet. The hospital could seek as high as 75 cents per thousand.

Quigg said Monday night that the issue of levying a property tax levy is still being discussed. It’s not a requirement to go for a property tax levy to create a hospital district.

The hospital is currently in financial trouble. After a series of layoffs in recent years, the hospital just laid off its remaining staff of licensed practical nurses. Seven nurses lost their jobs, although the hospital is working with them on transfers and severance packages.

“We really feel bad for the situation,” Quigg said. “They were amazing employees.”

Quigg said that the better reimbursement rate from the state would help the hospital’s financial situation.

The hospital needs to gather 1,830 signatures, which works out to 10 percent of the last General Election. The hope is to get the measure on the primary election ballot in August, but Auditor Vern Spatz said that may be rushing things a bit since there’s a formal process for the petitions to be verified, including public hearings before the county commissioners. The measure might not make it until the November election, Spatz said.

“The deadline is coming up fast, but we’ll hit the ground running,” Quigg said.

Soon after, the signatures are verified by the Auditor’s Office, the county commissioners would hold a public hearing and consider the boundaries of the district before passing the measure on to the ballot. The commissioners will be able to shrink the boundaries and make other adjustments, depending on public reaction. A majority of voters would have to approve the hospital district measure. Hiowever, if voters in Montesano say “no,” but a majority of voters elsewhere in the proposed district approve the measure, Montesano would still be in the hospital district.

“It’s important for us that the public’s voice is heard throughout this process,” Quigg said. “At the end of the day it’s for the better health care of our community. Their voice is important.”

Hospital district commissioners would also be elected by the public. It’s not yet decided how many commissioners there will be, Quigg said. It could be three, five or seven.

Earlier this month, the hospital’s board of directors approved moving forward with exploring the public hospital district concept and created a steering committee to go over the details.

The steering committee includes 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 serves as committee chairman.

More information will be forthcoming on a Facebook page being created and on the hospital’s website, Quigg said.