Summit Pacific pushes forward with annexation plans despite proposed hospital district

By David Haerle
The Vidette

Should Grays Harbor Community Hospital’s hurried effort to form a wide-ranging public hospital district fail at the ballot box come August, the county’s only current hospital district is ready to pounce on the opportunity.

The hospital district commissioners representing Summit Pacific approved their own annexation resolution during a three-hour meeting May 22 that would bring in the areas of Montesano, Brady, Black Creek and Melbourne into Summit Pacific Medical Center’s coverage and taxing sphere in a November election.

The competing ballot measures come about as the county’s two hospitals follow up on plans that have been in place for months. Community Hospital boosters pushed forward on their own hospital district plans without ever conferring with the neighboring hospital district on its plans.

Annexing the area in question had been part of Summit Pacific’s strategic plan for some time now, but that strategy hit a major hurdle when Community Hospital pushed forward. Summit Pacific unsuccessfully lobbied county commissioners to exclude the Montesano area from Community Hospital’s proposed district.

Summit Pacific officials asked the county commissioners to set aside the Montesano area, but they couldn’t convince Commissioner Frank Gordon or Herb Welch to make the adjustment. Commissioner Wes Cormier wanted the district to just include Cosmopolis, Aberdeen and Hoquiam.

Now, while the Summit Pacific hospital commissioners are not openly opposing Community Hospital’s campaign, they won’t be supporting it either. They feel they are a better fit for those who live east of Devonshire Road when it comes to serving the community.

“There is a chance in August that they may not be successful and we need to keep moving forward,” Summit Pacific CEO Renee Jensen told the board of commissioners during the meeting. “We need to be able to be on the November ballot.”

Summit Pacific officials created an information sheet outlining how its services already reach out to the Montesano community, noting a year’s worth of statistics for patients in the 98563 zip code: 2,932 primary care visits, 1,531 emergency room visits, 2,078 lab, radiology or observation visits and 348 days of in-patient and skilled nursing care. Of that, the Elma hospital provided $438,582 in uncompensated care to residents in that zip code.

The commissioners spent about 15 minutes discussing the proposed boundaries of the annexation resolution, pondering the possibility of including the Oakville area in the ballot proposal, but that found little support among board members.

Commission chairman Drew Hooper was not sure that would be well-received in the Oakville area, noting Summit Pacific’s own figures that the Elma hospital receives a relatively low percentage of its patient visits from people living there.

“I’m thinking about what Grays Harbor (Community Hospital), is dealing with right now with Ocean Shores,” noting vocal opposition to the proposed GHCH district on the North Beach. “What I would envision is that anything that would come from (trying to annex Oakville) would be negative. I don’t think that makes good sense right now.”

Hooper felt that some voters might look at that as a “land grab.”

Commissioner Chad Searls said that there should be a future groundswell of support for annexation, “We can do Oakville later. … Right now we should just stick with the program.”

Jensen agreed with the commissioners about reaching too far and statistics were presented noting that only 680 patients came from the Oakville area in the past year, a mere 8 percent of Summit Pacific’s “market share.”

“Strategically, it doesn’t make sense for us,” she noted. “We already have another (potential) hospital district doing that and it’s not going well for them.”

There was also brief debate about including the area west of Montesano to the Wynooche River, but the main concern there was splitting Grays Harbor Fire District No. 2 between the two competing hospital districts, a move that fire district officials are opposed to due to the bureaucratic tangle it could cause.

“Fire District 2 has an interest in keeping the district whole. They don’t want to be split between two hospital districts,” Jensen explained.

The commissioners decided to exclude that area also.

The competing district proposals puts the future of health care in East County on two paths.

On one hand, Community Hospital will be advocating for voters to approve its ballot measure in August.

Meantime, between now and August, Summit Pacific plans to conduct workshops, public forums and a required public hearing around the idea of annexing the Montesano area into its hospital district. The intention is to file a resolution with the Auditor’s Office by Aug. 5 to get on the November ballot.

The board of commissioners decided to hold that required public hearing on Wednesday, July 9, in order to vote on the result a second time at its July 24 meeting, well before the Aug. 5 deadline for November’s ballot.

As it happens, Aug. 5 is also primary election day for potential commissioners in Community Hospital’s proposed hospital district.

If the voters shoot down Community Hospital’s plans, then the annexation proposal by Summit Pacific will move forward without a hitch. The issue comes about is what happens if voters approve the new hospital district and, a couple of months later, approve the ballot measure for Summit Pacific? There’s some talk among Summit Pacific to see if they can withdraw their resolution before it ever ends up on the ballot, but there are legal questions about that.

Vidette editor Steven Friederich contributed to this story.