Governor Jay Inslee has stepped into the debate over hospital mergers and partnerships. On Tuesday, the governor ordered the State Department of Health to update the rules that govern hospitals when they plan to expand or form affiliations.
Now, when hospitals want to add more beds, or restructure their operations, they have to make an application for what's called a Certificate of Need. The Department of Health reviews the application to make sure these proposals meet the needs of the community.
The governor’s directive means that hospitals have to show how an alliance would affect the public’s access to care. The governors's spokesperson, Jamie Smith, said the directive also calls for the department to make the information available to the public.
“He believes the state does need to be vigilant in ensuring that as these mergers or affiliations are being discussed that it happens in an open, transparent manner,” she said. “Because we do need to scrutinize them and we do need to make sure we’re serving the best interests of the community those hospitals will be in.”
Over the past few years hospitals have been forming partnerships as a way to survive. But they’ve been controversial. Many of them are with faith-based organizations. One of the pending partnerships is between UW Medicine and PeaceHealth, a Catholic health care provider. That has raised a lot of concern about what kind of services will be provided, or eliminated, like abortion or end-of-life care.
Shankar Narayan, the ACLU’s legislative director, said the directive is one piece of the solution, but by the time the rules are revised, many of the pending agreements, like the UW case, will already have been signed. “Very often these transactions are conducted through setting up these shell companies that aren’t entities, but exist for the purpose of essentially being able to avoid the process of regulation,” he said.
The governor’s directive begins immediately, and the Department of Health is expected to give an update by the end of October.