By Polly Keary, Editor
Interim Valley General head Michael Fraser can retire now.
He came out of semi-retirement specifically to take on the challenge of helping Valley General Hospital find a partnership, and as of last Tuesday, it’s a done deal.
Valley General is now an affiliate of Kirkland-based EvergreenHealth, and between that and a levy that the hospital hopes to pass next year, hospital officials believe that Valley General has a bright future.
“I am really pleased to be able to have this as the last thing I do as a hospital executive,” said Fraser, who said the search for a new CEO is nearly complete. “I feel extremely good about this relationship with EvergreenHealth. I am pleased to end my career this way.”
The intent of the deal and the levy is to stabilize the hospital financially and improve service to area residents.
Evergreen is making an initial investment of $1 million into the hospital, which is actually prepayment on five years’ worth of rent of the Sky Valley Medical Center next door.
But there will be no immediate, dramatic changes, said Fraser.
“You will see signs that indicate we are an affiliate of EvergreenHealth,” he said. “If you look at the Sky River Building, EvergreenHealth is going to have a presence there, too.”
Evergreen is going to start out by hiring two new primary care doctors, but they may be a while in coming; it takes an average of six months to recruit a doctor.
In the meantime, behind the scenes, changes are already taking place.
The hospital just got a new chief nursing officer, a woman who has been with Evergreen for 37 years.
“EvergreenHealth is an organization built around and known for excellence in nursing services, and she is a product of that,” said Fraser. “That gives us the ability to import some of the strengths that EvergreenHealth has.”
Monroe residents will soon be able to take advantage of Evergreen’s 3D digital breast imaging technology, too, which is much more successful at detecting tumors that traditional mammograms may miss.
And Valley General will realize a savings of about 40 percent on the cost of repairs, and significant savings on medical supplies, because of Evergreen’s buying power.
Perhaps the greatest immediate benefit to area residents will be the relationships Valley General now has through Evergreen. Evergreen is affiliated with the cardiac care department of Virginia Mason and with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
That means, when someone in Monroe has heart issues or develops a cancer that is unusual or difficult to treat, physicians at VGH will be aware of all the specialists and treatments that may help, and can refer patients to those resources.
Levy next year
To get the hospital on firm footing, though, will require a levy, both CEOs agree.
Monroe has some of the highest rates of unpaid care of any hospital in the state. But VGH also has the lowest levy rate in the state. And those two factors combined have led to ongoing financial woes.
“What the levy will do is help stabilize things, and the need really comes about because of uncompensated care,” said Fraser. “It’s not going to pay for all of it. There’s no way we can ask people to do that. The type of increase we are looking at would still leave us below average. We want to be judicious. We are looking at it very carefully.”
The board has not decided how much to ask, or when to ask it, but is considering April.
Currently the average hospital district homeowner pays about $20 per year in hospital taxes.
Evergreen is also a public hospital, and residents of that taxing district pay about $65-$70 annually in hospital taxes.
Evergreen best suitor
Evergreen wasn’t the only hospital interested in a relationship with VGH; Providence Everett took several close looks, but ultimately VGH wanted to preserve inpatient care, and according to a VGH employee newsletter that went out earlier this year, Providence would have discontinued inpatient care in Monroe.
That would have reduced public safety in the Sky Valley, according to emergency workers.
According to Cindy Coker, medical services administrator at the Monroe Fire Department, more than half of all people needing transport to a hospital would wind up being taken directly to an out-of-the-area hospital such as Providence or Evergreen.
“They need more advanced care than an outpatient hospital could provide,” she said.
And that would mean Monroe ambulances being out of the area for as much as two hours at a time, she said.
“That’s two hours the car can’t respond to 911 calls for our community,” she said.
Valley General has been under the management of interim CEO Michael Fraser since July, and the search has been narrowed to one candidate, said Fraser.
“We think we found a very good individual we think is very compatible with the leadership philosophy of Evergreen, as well,” he said, saying it will be about two weeks before anything is final. “I personally know the individual we are talking to and I think we will be a great addition,” he said.