By Polly Keary, Editor
Concerned that without additional financial support, Valley General Hospital might no longer offer inpatient care, Eric DeBelly of Monroe and other members of a group called Citizens for Our Hospital are campaigning for an April levy that would increase tax revenue to the facility.
“I have lived in Monroe for 17 years now, and it’s important to support the basic services of the community to help it flourish and thrive, and the hospital is one of the cornerstones of the community that is important to me, living here,” said DeBelly, an IT professional.
Valley General Hospital has been operating at a loss for years, due mostly to treating a lot of people who can’t pay and to collecting less tax money than any other public hospital in the state.
One of the main reasons people can’t pay in recent years is job loss, according to hospital officials. Many people can’t afford to pay for COBRA to hang onto their insurance after losing a job. Others have run out of COBRA benefits.
And many other people have jobs, but either don’t have benefits or have catastrophic coverage plans with very high deductibles and co-pays.
Currently the hospital, which is taxpayer owned, collects 14 cents for every $1,000 of property value. That puts it last in the state in tax funding rates. Most public hospitals collect about 50 cents per $1,000.
The hospital is asking 37 cents per thousand, a little less than three times what is collected now. That means the average tax bill per house would go from $28 to $75 per year.
“What it’s going to do is enable the hospital to shore up the operations,” said DeBelly. “They are at a critical point in their life where they can’t do it anymore.”
No one has announced what Valley General will do if the levy fails, other than to say that tough choices will have to be made.
But officials concede that the possibility of ceasing inpatient care exists.
Last year patients spent the day in inpatient care 3,663 times. But if those services aren’t available, even emergency room visits could plummet.
Emergency workers typically don’t transport patients to hospitals that don’t have inpatient care. So aid cars from Monroe would wind up traveling 34 miles round trip to Everett, and 52 miles from Sultan, taking those emergency vehicles out of service for about two hours per trip.
Last year, emergency vehicles transported patients to Valley General from Monroe and Sultan about 1,700 times.
A failed levy could mean a missed opportunity for excellence, too, said DeBelly.
The hospital was recently made an affiliate of EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, but that, too, is a publicly owned hospital and therefore cannot spend any money on VGH. Instead, the two hospitals are working to coordinate care, buy supplies in bulk, share physicians and increase health services in Monroe. And new Chief of Nursing Operations Debbie Brown foresees making Valley General a destination hospital for some unique services.
Evergreen is committed to the relationship even if the levy fails, but it would reduce possibilities, DeBelly said.
“On one end of the spectrum, we can explore making Valley General into a great destination hospital, and on the other end, we will have less services to offer the community,” he said. “And even though we would still be affiliated, there won’t be room to bring in new stuff.”
The levy will run April 23.