Bill would help hospital with its financial woes

OLYMPIA — A bill that would provide temporary funding to ease a financial crisis at Grays Harbor Community Hospital and two other financially struggling hospitals in the state was introduced Feb. 6, just hours ahead of the bill cutoff for financial measures.

“People can’t afford to be without a hospital,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim. “We’ve intervened before and, now, once again we’re trying to preserve the sole community hospital for area residents.”

Van De Wege’s Senate Bill 6601 would increase the reimbursements to patients eligible for Medicaid at the state’s three sole community hospitals. It would raise the reimbursement rate to 150 percent of the normal rate. In a similar financial crisis a few years ago, the state agreed to a rate of 125 percent if the hospital would transition from a private, non-profit institution to being a public hospital.

The hospital lost in excess of $8 million last year and more than a third of its in-patients receive Medicaid. The hospital says reimbursement rates for Medicaid have been so low that it loses money at the rates.

It owes about $30 million to Key Bank, which is likely to have the option of calling in the entire note after the 2017 financials are completed this spring. Hospital officials are looking at several solutions to turn the financial situation around, including being acquired by another health care provider, finding efficiencies in their operation or issuing bonds that would be repaid by property taxes.

“There is plenty that we’re unhappy with concerning the management of the hospital and the precarious position in which they have put their institution and the health needs of the communities who rely on their services,” said Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, and a cosponsor of the bill. “But regardless of how we got here, people must have a hospital within a reasonable distance.”

Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, whose legislative district contains one of the two other sole community hospitals in the state, also cosponsored the bill. The third sole community hospital is in Port Angeles.

“The hospital did not communicate their dire situation in a timely fashion, so our only hope at this late time is to shift to a budget proviso for temporary funding,” Van De Wege said. “With the legislative cutoff deadline only hours away, the logistics of hearing and passing a new bill out of committee are daunting.”