By Eric Jensen
I am writing not only as the CEO of Valley General Hospital, but as someone who has spent a majority of my work life as a rural and small hospital CEO in Washington State. As I hope you have heard by now, there is a very important vote taking place this month that will determine the future of Valley General Hospital. This community will experience the ramifications of this vote for many years to come so it is important to understand what’s at stake for you and your family. In a nutshell, this is about whether or not East Snohomish County will maintain a full service hospital with the 24/7 access to emergency, trauma, surgical and inpatient care that Valley General has provided this community for the last 53 years.
One of the implications of a reduction in Valley General’s services, which include emergency, trauma and inpatient care, are that many ambulances will drive by Valley General Hospital to emergency departments in Everett or Kirkland and be out of service much longer. This means reduced access to emergency medical care, longer response times to 9-1-1 calls, increased costs for equipment and personnel for our EMS and ambulance providers, and for those that rely on volunteers, more difficulty recruiting and retaining volunteer EMTs to staff those ambulances.
There are still questions and confusion around what is happening with healthcare services here in Monroe. One thing that it is important for you to understand is that Providence is not building a hospital here in Monroe. They are building a new medical clinic with an urgent care center much like the one at their current location on 179th Avenue. While their clinic and urgent care center will continue to benefit many residents, it will not replace your hospital. An urgent care center has nowhere near the capabilities of a hospital emergency department and Level IV Trauma Service, and does not provide 24/7 access to medical care. Ambulances do not transport patients to urgent care centers.
Small community hospitals like Valley General save lives. We also deliver high quality care at a lower cost for the services we provide compared to many larger, urban hospitals. Why should you and your East Snohomish County neighbors spend extra time and money driving 30 to 40 minutes each way for the basic hospital and healthcare services Valley General currently provides? You won’t need to with the modest levy increase Valley General is requesting. You should have already received the mail-in ballot for Valley’s levy increase. It represents a property tax increase for homeowners of only $46 per year on a home valued at $200,000. That represents less than $1 per week, and with that small investment, you have the peace of mind that timely access to emergency care provides when minutes count.
Community hospitals are more than just healthcare providers; they are often one of the largest employers in a community. Valley General Hospital employs 350 people here in Monroe. By providing hospital and healthcare services locally, Valley General supports the local economy with family wage jobs. Healthcare dollars spent locally also generate additional jobs and commerce throughout East Snohomish County.
Last year, Valley General had a critical choice to make. A true partnership with EvegreenHealth, an organization that understands and recognizes the value Valley General Hospital provides to this community, or an affiliation with Providence that would have turned Valley General into a vaguely defined “outpatient facility.” Valley General chose EvergreenHealth, the partnership that would best complement and strengthen Valley General’s hospital services, and the best chance for Valley General to continue serving you as your medical safety net.
Eric P. Jensen is the CEO of Valley General Hospital. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org