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Astria Regional Medical Center Announces New Chief Operating Officer

(Yakima, WA) - Astria Regional Medical Center is pleased to announce that Darrin Cook, MHA, has been selected as the Chief Operating Officer for the hospital effective November 1, 2017. He has been with Astria Regional Medical Center since 2015 as the Director of Physician Outreach and Recruitment and mostly recently as the Administrative Director of Operations.

“Darrin is a dynamic leader who has demonstrated over his two and a half years here a comprehensive knowledge of our hospital and the commitment and dedication I’m looking for to move Astria Regional Medical Center forward delivering the best care possible in the Yakima Valley,” said Rich Robinson, Chief Executive Officer, Astria Regional Medical Center and Astria Heart Institute.

Mr. Cook brings more than 16 years in healthcare administration to his new role. Prior to joining Astria Regional Medical Center in 2015, Mr. Cook was the CEO for Oregon Surgical Specialist, LLC a private practice surgical group specializing in general, vascular, and bariatric surgery.  Before relocating to Yakima in 2007, from 2001- 2007, Mr. Cook was the Chief Clinic Coordinator for Southwest Medical Group’s multiple family practices (now PeaceHealth Medical Group).  From 2007 – 2014, Mr. Cook worked with multiple physician practices with  Memorial Physicians, LLC and was the Executive Director for Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital’s – North Star Lodge Cancer Center.

“I’m excited to continue to be a part of the Astria Regional Medical Center team and enthusiastic about what Astria Health is going to be able to bring to the entire Yakima Valley.  After a decade in Yakima, our family considers the Yakima Valley our home and I look forward to the next several years being a part of a full-service health system that provides options and the continuity of care our community deserves,” said Cook.

Mr. Cook’s community involvement has included Leadership Yakima class of 2011, was a Friend of the Village at Children’s Village, Youthworks, past Loaned Executive with United Way, and currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Wellness House.

Mr. Cook spent six years Active Duty in the U.S Army as a medical specialist with one tour to Kuwait in 1997 as well as one year in the Army National Guard receiving two Honorable Discharges.  Prior to Mr. Cook’s military service he worked for Washington State DSHS with their Department of Developmental Disabilities.  Mr. Cook also holds a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Human Services, and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration of Healthcare Management/Administration.

Media Contact:
Dawn O'Polka
Chief Marketing & Communication Executive
Regional Health

Regional Health launches new go-to-market brand identity

YAKIMA, WA - Tuesday, October 17, 2017 – Regional Health, the parent company of Yakima Regional Medical & Cardiac Center, Toppenish Community Hospital, and Sunnyside Community Hospital & Clinics is launching a new brand identity under which the organization will operate. The new entity, Astria Health, (pronounced az- tree -uh) reflects the organization's commitment to growth, excellence, and innovation in services throughout the region.

Originating from the Latin word for "star" and Greek for "truth and justice", the name Astria embodies the vision of the organization and elevates the brand promise. The illustrated, layered star logo symbolizes that the organization is in motion—moving forward—and helping individuals navigate today's changing healthcare environment.

Astria Health President and Chief Executive Officer John Gallagher says rolling out the new identity signals more than just adopting a new name. He says it's an indication of how the organization is transforming every aspect of how they approach patient care. As the largest healthcare system based in Eastern Washington, Astria Health looks forward to a bright future.

"The launch of our new brand is just the beginning of our story," says Gallagher. "It's what we are doing inside our hospitals and clinics—increasing availability of services, attracting the most-qualified physicians, and offering the latest technological advances—that this new brand symbolizes."

Gallagher points out that Astria Health is not-for-profit with a clear vision of building sustainable healthcare organizations that deliver comprehensive quality care to improve health in the communities we serve. As a non-profit, we invest in local healthcare and ensure patients of receiving the quality care they need close to home.

Astria Health exists to provide healthcare services to the communities we serve. Every dollar we earn is reinvested into providing quality healthcare through investing in technology, new or expanded patient care services, improved access to care, new physician services, and attracting and retaining engaged professionals who share our vision. Astria Health is currently comprised of over 38 clinics and three hospitals caring for patients seeking care from throughout Eastern Washington and Oregon.

The hospitals will adopt the Astria name with their existing names.

  • Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center is now Astria Regional Medical Center
  • Its cardiac program is highlighted as Astria Heart Institute.
  • Astria Heart Institute is the region’s only open-heart surgery and elective interventional cardiology program.
  • Toppenish Community Hospital is now Astria Toppenish Hospital.
  • Sunnyside Community Hospital is now Astria Sunnyside Hospital.

All of the clinics associated with the hospitals will be easier to identify and find:

  • All primary care and multi-specialty clinics are now Astria Health Center.
  • All urgent care locations (such the Medi-Centers in Yakima) are now Astria Urgent Care.
  • Yakima Valley Hearing and Speech is now Astria Hearing and Speech Center.
  • Yakima Ambulatory Surgical Center is now Astria Ambulatory Surgery Center.
  • Plastic Surgery Center is now Astria Plastic Surgery Center.
  • Home health and hospices services are now Astria Home Health

The hospitals and the clinics will now proudly display the Astria brand name at all locations. Signage and other identification updates will make it easier for patients and residents to identify and find Astria Health locations, services and physicians throughout the Valley. This will assist them if finding the care they need and deserve regardless of where they live or work throughout the region.

Gallagher says because the hospitals and clinics are operated at the local level,

Astria Health is able to be responsive to the needs of each individual community, while offering the strength, expertise, and resources of the organization as a whole.

"Seasoned leadership, with ties to the region are making decisions that serve their friends, neighbors—even family members," says Gallagher. "We are able to pair institutional knowledge with new ideas and technology to really bring innovation to our healthcare services."

Those seasoned leaders include Gallagher, MBA, FACHE, who has over 20 years experience in hospital administration. Gallagher operated Sunnyside Community Hospital for four years prior to becoming President and CEO of Astria Health (formerly known as Regional Health) in September 2016. While CEO of Sunnyside Community Hospital, he brought nearly 40 new physicians and over 60 new or updated services to the lower valley. Gallagher received his bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University and both his Master of Healthcare Administration and Master of Business Administration from University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Brian Gibbons will continue as chief executive officer of Astria Sunnyside Hospital. Gibbons has served as Sunnyside Community Hospital and Clinics CEO since April 2017, following his tenure as Sunnyside's chief operating officer since 2013. He was instrumental in helping the hospital reach fiscal and financial stability. Gibbons received his bachelor's degree in Public Administration specializing in Economics, Finance, and Management from Loyola University in New Orleans and his Master of Business Administration and Master of Health Services Administration from the University of Florida.

Rich Robinson has taken the helm as CEO of Astria Regional Medical Center, including its comprehensive cardiac program. Robinson has more than 30 years experience as a CEO, building and expanding hospitals and health systems. Robinson has extensive knowledge of the Yakima market as he served as chief executive officer of Yakima Regional Medical & Cardiac Center as well as Toppenish Community Hospital from 2010 to 2014. He received his bachelor's degree in business from California State University and his Master of Business Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

Eric Jensen was appointed as chief executive officer of Toppenish Community Hospital. Jensen brings more than 28 years of chief executive officer experience to his new role. Prior to joining Regional Health, he served as CEO of Valley General Hospital in Monroe, WA. Jensen received his bachelor's degree from the University of Washington and his Master of Healthcare Administration from Tulane University in New Orleans.

Media Contact:
Dawn O'Polka
Chief Marketing & Communication Executive
Regional Health

Regional Health Appoints New CEO for Toppenish Community Hospital

Sunnyside, WA (September 6, 2017) – John Gallagher, President and CEO of Regional Health announced the appointment of Eric Jensen as Chief Executive Officer at Toppenish Community Hospital, a Regional Health affiliate, effective Friday, September 1, 2017. On September 1, Regional Health acquired both Toppenish Community Hospital and Yakima Community Hospital returning them to local non-profit status.

Eric Jensen is a seasoned healthcare executive bringing over 28 years of Chief Executive Officer experience to his new role. Mr. Jensen has a deep understanding of the Toppenish community, the Yakima Valley and the State of Washington healthcare delivery system.

Prior to joining Regional Health, Mr. Jensen served as CEO of Valley General Hospital in Monroe, Washington. The hospital was renamed EvergreenHealth Monroe in 2015. Prior to EvergreenHealth, he served as CEO at Regional Hospital for Respiratory and Complex Care, a specialty hospital located in Seattle. Mr. Jensen also served as CEO of Kittitas Valley Healthcare in Ellensburg and CEO of Forks Community Hospital in Forks, Washington.

Mr. Jensen has been very active for many years in the Washington State Hospital Association and Association of Public Hospital Districts (AWPHD). He recently served as AWPHD Board President.

Mr. Jensen received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Washington and his Master of Healthcare Administration from Tulane University in New Orleans. He is also a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.

"Toppenish Community Hospital is an important community asset, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with a passionate local board, associates and physicians as we return it to local, non-profit status as a member of Regional Health," said Mr. Jensen. "The Toppenish area, including Toppenish, Granger, Zillah, Wapato and the towns and cities nearby, is rich in history and culture. I look forward to working with Regional Health to strengthen the hospital and reinvest back into the hospital and its services as well as the community."

Media Contact:
Dawn O'Polka
Chief Marketing & Communication Executive
Regional Health
509.837.1543 O
509.391.5072 C

Regional Health Appoints New CEO for Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center

Sunnyside, WA (September 5, 2017) – John Gallagher, President and CEO of Regional Health announced the appointment of Rich Robinson as Chief Executive Officer of Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center, a Regional Health affiliate, effective Friday, September 1, 2017. On September 1, Regional Health acquired both Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center and Toppenish Community Hospital returning them to local non-profit status.

Rich Robinson is a seasoned healthcare executive with over 30 years of Chief Executive Officer experience building and growing hospitals and health systems. He has a deep understanding of the Yakima and Toppenish communities and of the Valley. Prior to joining Regional Health, Mr. Robinson served as CEO of Frontier Neurosurgery of Yakima, WA and as Area Chief Executive Officer of Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center as well as Toppenish Community Hospital. In that position, he oversaw the strategic operations of both hospitals and the affiliated Central Washington Medical Group.

Mr. Robinson's previous leadership experience includes serving as CEO Eastern New Mexico Medical Center Roswell, NM, CEO RHR Oil Center in Riverside, CA, CEO Irvine Medical Center Irvine CA, CEO Doctors Hospital of Manteca, Manteca, CA and associate administrator of Doctors Medical Center in Modesto CA.

Mr. Robinson received his Bachelor’s degree in Business from California State University, Turlock, CA and his Master of Business Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, CA.

"I look forward to working with the Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center Board of Trustees, Medical Staff and Associates as we grow and expand services, improve facilities and technology, focus on stable and effective operations," said Mr. Robinson. "It is very exciting to be returning the hospital to local, non-profit status as a part of Regional Health."

"This is an important step for Regional Health as this acquisition helps fulfill Regional Health's mission of providing the region with comprehensive quality care and advances our vision of becoming the regional comprehensive healthcare provider of choice. The system helps us deliver healthcare all along I-82 ensuring people have the care they need, close to where they live and work," Gallagher said.

Media Contact:
Dawn O'Polka Chief Marketing & Communication Executive
Regional Health
509.837.1543 O
509.391.5072 C

Regional Health Acquires Toppenish Community Hospital and Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center

Sunnyside, WA (August 31, 2017)—Regional Health welcomes Toppenish Community Hospital and Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center as they join Sunnyside Community Hospital to become members of Regional Health with the announcement of the closing of its long-awaited purchase of both hospitals.

"We're pleased to add these valuable local hospitals to the Regional Health family and return both to non-profit status. They, along with Sunnyside Community Hospital, join us in our commitment to serving the people and families living and working throughout the Yakima Valley. The hospitals' return to non-profit status will allow them to again directly reinvest back into both the communities and the healthcare infrastructure so needed in the region," said John Gallagher, President and CEO, Regional Health. "Both Toppenish Community Hospital and Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center have long and proud histories of serving their communities. We are pleased that, together, we will be able ensure that all three hospitals remain community focused and we are looking forward to a bright future for the Valley."

With the acquisition of Toppenish Community Hospital and Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center, Regional Health will have over 1,400 employees, 3 hospitals, 14 medical clinics and 24 specialty clinics located between the Tri-Cities and Yakima. It will be the largest healthcare delivery system based in Eastern Washington.

"The Yakima Valley is known for providing compassionate quality healthcare. Regional Health is committed to combining the knowledge and skill of our hospitals and clinics and strengthening them by ensuring they have the resources, technology and expertise they need," says Gallagher. "We feel strongly that it is our responsibility to provide all Regional Health hospitals with the resources they need while bringing in some of the most highly trained and experienced practitioners from throughout the world. Regional Health is constantly striving to find new and better ways to care for patients, and this acquisition reflects that care philosophy."

Patients will notice some changes in signage, websites and correspondence soon. But, they will continue to get the same great care from Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center, Toppenish Community Hospitals and Sunnyside Community Hospital locations that they have always trusted.

"This is an important step for Regional Health as this acquisition helps fulfill Regional Health's mission of providing the region with comprehensive quality care and advances our vision of becoming the regional comprehensive healthcare provider of choice. The system helps us deliver healthcare all along I-82 ensuring people have the care they need, close to where they live and work," Gallagher said.

Read the full release here

Regional Health Brings World–Class Cardiac Specialists to the Yakima Valley

YAKIMA – Yakima is known for the quality of its cardiac physicians and local cardiac care.  Yakima Regional Medical & Cardiac Center has long been hailed as Yakima’s “heart hospital”—the only local hospital offering both elective and emergency cardiac catheterization procedures and the region’s only open-heart surgery program.  Now Regional Health is taking cardiac care in the Yakima Valley to new heights.

“We have excellent cardiologists here in the Yakima area,” says John Gallagher, President and CEO of Regional Health, the parent company of Sunnyside Community Hospital & Clinics and (pending acquisition) Yakima Regional Medical & Cardiac Center and Toppenish Community Hospital.  “But now we want to combine the knowledge and skill of our local providers with physicians who have trained in new innovative cardiac programs throughout the world”

The idea of building partnerships that balance new techniques and skills with tried and true training and procedures is one of the hallmarks of Regional Health’s new innovative model of care.  This philosophy is demonstrated in cardiac services, with Regional Health recently hiring five new cardiac specialists.  James Kneller, MD, is board certified in Cardiovascular Disease, Electrophysiology and Internal Medicine.  He specializes in heart rhythm disorders and cardiac implant devices (pacemakers and AICDs)—working with both BIOTRONIK and Medtronic devices.  Both educated and having completed his residency at the prestigious McGill University in Montreal QC, Canada, Dr. Kneller has received extensive training in the complexities of the heart and correcting rhythm disorders with both invasive and non-invasive surgical procedures.

Bradley Titus, MD, comes to Yakima with a medical degree from the University of Michigan School of Medicine and a residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital, in Dallas, TX. Dr. Titus specializes in the latest interventional cardiac procedures such as angioplasty, balloon valvuloplasty, and implanting stents.  He trained extensively with top interventional specialists across the nation. 

Dr. John Adan, MD, has been on staff Sunnyside Community Hospital, a Regional Health affiliate for three years.  Dr. Adan graduated from the Queen’s University of Belfast in Northern Ireland and trained at both Boston and Yale Universities before making his way to Yakima.  In his previous position, most recently with Vista Health in Fort Mohave, AZ, Dr. Adan conducted over 3600 cardiac interventions and placed over 750 pacemakers in his career.

Both Dr. Bradley Titus and Dr. John Adan are Board Certified in Interventional Cardiology, Cardiovascular Medicine, and Internal Medicine. 

John P. Owens, MD, trained at the University of Utah, where he also completed his residency.  Dr. Owens is board certified in Cardiovascular Disease and Internal Medicine.  He provides a full range of outpatient and inpatient cardiac services for both adults and children.  He is also the only cardiologist in the region who is fully focused on Yakima Valley as a board certified in Pediatric Cardiology—treating children and teens with heart disorders as well as adults with congenital anomalies.  Prior to Dr. Owens joining Regional Health, children and teens often had to travel to Seattle or Portland to receive care for cardiovascular disease.

Finally, Michael D. Becker, MD, has been a member of the Sunnyside Community Hospital Cardiology team since 2015 and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Regional Health cardiology team.  Graduating from Milwaukee’s Medical College of Wisconsin in 1979, Dr. Becker has been working in cardiovascular medicine for over 35 years.  He is an interventional cardiologists board certified in Cardiovascular Disease, Nuclear Cardiology, and Internal Medicine.  He is also certified as a National Board Medical Examiner, evaluating other cardiac physicians for board eligibility and certification.

All five cardiologists are currently accepting new patients and offering outpatient services at clinics in Yakima, Sunnyside, and Prosser. Inpatient services are provided at Yakima Regional Medical & Cardiac Center, Sunnyside Community Hospital, and Toppenish Community Hospital.

“Our intention is to enhance our already excellent cardiovascular programs here in the Yakima Valley by recruiting physicians trained in specialties our patients often have to travel to see,” says Gallagher.  “Our goal is to bring providers to the Yakima Valley, to treat patients from our local cities and towns and help them receive the life-saving cardiac care they need right here at home.” Learn more about Regional Health Cardiovascular programs and the new Regional Health Cardiologists at

Regional Health Receives Washington Department of Health Certificate of Need Applications Decision

Sunnyside, WA – Regional Health has received the Washington Department of Health CON analysis of its applications for both Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center and Toppenish Community Hospital.

Pending Regional Health’s agreement to certain conditions, the Department of Health recommends approval of both the Toppenish Community Hospital and Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center applications.

Regional Health is in the process of reviewing the analysis and will respond within the 20-day timeline specified by the Department of Health. The conditions are as Regional Health expected, and we do not foresee any problems meeting them.

“We would like to again thank the many residents, patients, government and community leaders, physicians and staff members who sent letters of support to the Washington Department of Health and who attended the July 11, 2017 public hearings,” said John Gallagher, President and CEO, Regional Health. “Their input made a big difference in the process. They clearly communicated their strong support of both hospitals and their desire to return both to locally owned non-profit status as a part of Regional Health.”

Sunnyside Community Hospital, a Regional Health Affiliate, Recognized on ‘Most Wired’ List

Sunnyside, WA – For the tenth year, Sunnyside Community Hospital & Clinics, a Regional Health affiliate, has been recognized on Hospitals & Health Networks’ “Most Wired Hospitals and Health Systems” list, as a Most Wired hospital. The list recognizes hospitals and healthcare systems that rely on increased clinical capabilities, telehealth and mobile technology.

Sunnyside Community Hospital & Clinics earned recognition participating in the 19th annual “Most Wired” survey, which measures the level of IT adoption in hospitals and health systems. The survey identifies progress in adoption, implementation, and use of information technology in four areas: infrastructure, business and administrative management, clinical quality and safety (hospital inpatient/outpatient), and clinical integration (ambulatory/physician/community). Health Forum, an American Hospital Association is responsible for analyzing and distributing the survey data, and for developing benchmarks that are becoming the industry standard for measuring IT adoption for operational, financial and clinical performance.

With today’s shift to Electronic Health Records (EHRs), it is increasingly important that hospitals and health systems store and utilize information effectively. Efficient health information technology (health IT) systems increase patient safety by reducing errors like unnecessary tests and prescribing errors. They increase speed and safety in delivery of care by allowing providers instant access to comprehensive records.

John Andersen, Director of IT at Sunnyside Community Hospital & Clinics says, “Health Care’s Most Wired award was designed to highlight U.S. hospitals who have shown a commitment to advanced IT adoption and improvements in operational, financial, and clinical systems. We are honored to have made the list. There is always more to accomplish and our upcoming focus is on deep integration of our entire patient care continuum, improved patient access, security, and mobility.”

Mark Lauteren, Chief Information Officer says, “Regional Health is proud to learn that Sunnyside Community Hospital has again won the Most Wired award. John Andersen and the team at Sunnyside Community Hospital & Clinics have done a great job. As Regional Health expands, we hope to continue to provide the highest quality, most cost-effective Information Services to our system.”

The pending acquisition of Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center and Toppenish Community Hospital will allow for even greater quality of care to the people and families of the region, as these healthcare organizations will integrate to form a system, sharing resources and networks.

Regional Health approaches final hurdle in acquisition of local hospitals

YAKIMA—The Washington State Department of Health will hear public comments today on Regional Health’s Certificate of Need application for the acquisition of Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center and Toppenish Community Hospital. Regional Health, the parent company of Sunnyside Community Hospital and Clinics, applied for a Certificate of Need to acquire the hospitals in late 2016, and this is the final step in that process.  The acquisition will bring both hospitals back to their former not-for-profit status, increase access to health care throughout the Valley, and ensure local control over operations of the hospitals.

“Our communities in the Yakima Valley are struggling to find access to quality, affordable health care,” says John Gallagher, President and CEO of Regional Health.  “This proposal would create access points all along the 1-82 corridor, so patients no longer need to leave their local communities to find care.”

This proposal would create a network of three hospitals, 15 medical clinics, and 23 specialty clinics between Ellensburg and Tri-Cities—allowing for collaboration, efficiencies, and shared services.  More importantly, because this measure returns the hospitals to their not-for-profit status, Regional Health will be able to reinvest profits back into technology, staff, services, and programs in the Yakima Valley. 

The negotiated purchase price, excluding working capital, for both hospitals is $37,000,000. In comparison, when CHS acquired the hospitals in 2014, the State CN Program’s approved capital expenditure was $208,000,000. The lower purchase price will make it easier for Regional Health to reinvest back into the community.

Public comments on the Certificates of Need (CN Application #17-25 Toppenish Community Hospital and CN Application #17-26 Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center) are accepted until close of business on July 11 and can be directed to Nancy Tyson, Executive Director, Health Facilities and Certificate of Need, at the WA State Department of Health and carbon copy

The Department of Health is expected to return a decision in August.

What would it mean for the Yakima Valley if Obamacare is repealed and replaced?

By Molly Rosbach

Yakima Herald Republic

Local and state health care leaders are alarmed by the Senate’s health care proposal, particularly the impact it would have on rural communities like the Yakima Valley.

Most troubling is the $834 billion cut facing Medicaid in the Senate’s health bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. “Overall, it’s not a good policy. … Right now, it’s a lot of takeaways and not so much on the give-back,” said John Gallagher, CEO of Sunnyside Community Hospital and Regional Health. “When it comes to the nitty gritty — we took care of patients beforehand; we’ll take care of patients after — but it will be a challenge for the families involved.”

In rural areas of Washington state, 53 percent of children and 21 percent of adults are covered by Medicaid, according to the Washington State Hospital Association. Both figures have increased since the Affordable Care Act was enacted and the state expanded Medicaid, giving new coverage to roughly 600,000 low-income adults and families.

The Senate bill also includes a provision that would lock patients out of health coverage for six months after their sign-up date if they’ve let their insurance lapse for 63 days or more. In theory, the lockout period is meant to encourage people to stay in the insurance market and not hop in and out of coverage, but providers fear it could mean life-threatening delays in care for people who drop their insurance because they can’t afford it or because they lose or change jobs.

That provision applies to everyone, not just those on Medicaid. It would replace the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires people to have health insurance or pay a penalty at the end of the year. (The penalty this year is the higher of either $2,085 per person or 2.5 percent of household income.)

Locally, hospital and health center directors say they will continue serving patients regardless of ability to pay. That’s what they were doing before the ACA: offering sliding-fee-scale discounts to the uninsured and eating the cost in charity care and uncompensated care. But the additional reimbursement from the expanded Medicaid population has allowed for the growth of services such as coordinated care, which help people receive more efficient, comprehensive health care by networking with different types of providers.

Across the country, community health centers saw their rates of uninsured, self-pay patients drop by approximately 50 percent, said Dr. Mike Maples, CEO of Community Health of Central Washington. The uninsured didn’t go away entirely, he said; there are still people falling through the cracks who are not eligible for Medicaid or subsidies on the exchange.

“But that was huge for us and other health centers, in terms of having a source of payment for their care so we could do things like expand integrated behavioral health services, for example,” Maples said. “We’ve grown those services substantially since the Affordable Care Act.” They haven’t yet looked at the “disaster scenario” of the Senate health bill actually going into effect, or what the rollback of those services would mean for patients, he said. They’re waiting to see what progresses in the Senate, where the bill was put on hold until after the Fourth of July recess because Republicans couldn’t get the necessary votes to pass it last week.

Prior to the ACA, Virginia Mason Memorial hospital in Yakima was spending 6 to 8 percent of its adjusted patient services revenue on charity care; it’s now between 2 and 3 percent, said Tim Reed, Memorial’s chief financial officer. “The communities with the poorest socio-economic folks are going to be those hardest hit, and that’s precisely what those (Medicaid) programs are for,” he said.

Reed predicts that if Medicaid payments go away, the cost shifting from uninsured patients still using the ER will result in higher premiums for commercial insurance customers. “When someone doesn’t have health insurance … Heaven help them if they need a gastroenterologist or a specialist, or if there’s gonna be a pharmaceutical regimen involved,” -Julie Petersen, KVH Hospital CEO “That will be the market or the system trying to equilibrate the shortfall in Medicaid,” he said.

The major changes to health insurance exchanges and deep cuts to Medicaid in the Senate bill wouldn’t go into effect until 2019 and later — after the 2018 midterm elections. The overhaul of the entire Medicaid formula wouldn’t happen until 2025, two presidential elections from now. While community health centers may offer discounts, emergency rooms are required by law to treat anyone who shows up.

“When someone doesn’t have health insurance … Heaven help them if they need a gastroenterologist or a specialist, or if there’s gonna be a pharmaceutical regimen involved,” said Julie Petersen, CEO of KVH Hospital in Ellensburg.

Petersen has served on a national panel on vulnerable populations with the American Hospital Association, representing rural hospitals. Hospitals may be forced to cut programs that helped reduce readmissions by ensuring safe housing, ensuring patients know how to take their medications and other factors that affect health after discharge from the hospital, she said. “Those programs are part of health care reform,” Petersen said. “But if (hospitals) go back to scraping by and working to keep their head above water, those are the sorts of things that we’ll be sacrificing.”

Expanded coverage has also allowed more people to find primary care providers, where they can go for preventive check-ups and screenings, as well as more everyday health care. Brisa Guajardo lives in the Tri-Cities but often works with Yakima patients, encouraging people — particularly in the Hispanic community — to seek preventive care now that they have access to insurance instead of waiting until they’re really sick or relying on home remedies.

She knows the value of preventive care firsthand: At age 24, she went to an urgent care center to figure out why she was feeling run-down all the time. The routine check turned serious when the doctor found a lump on her neck. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and scheduled for surgery within weeks.

“Since then, preventative care has been the focus, keeping up with my checkups,” she said. “My doctors always tell me: Cancer will never hurt until it’s too late.” The cancer came back in 2008, discovered during one of those regular checkups. “I often wonder, ‘What if I didn’t keep up with those checkups?’ Testing is so expensive; my medications today are expensive,” Guajardo said.

“I’m lucky to have insurance. ... What if my job was to ever go away? The first thing that I would think about is my health, because I have something that I have to take care of for the rest of my life.”

Under the ACA, insurers are not allowed to refuse coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions, but under both the Senate and House health care proposals, states would be able to opt out of the “essential health benefits” of the ACA, which include coverage for pre-existing conditions. One of the biggest concerns for hospitals around here is that, while the Affordable Care Act cut certain funds to hospitals, including disproportionate share (DSH) dollars that were initially given to make up for large number of Medicaid patients at those hospitals, the Senate bill both slashes Medicaid dollars and doesn’t replace the DSH payments.

“That’s really the double whammy you saw happen in a lot of the South that didn’t choose to expand Medicaid: They took the cuts but didn’t see any decrease in their uncompensated care,” said Jacqueline Barton True, director of rural health programs at the state Hospital Association.

“Many of our rural hospitals operate on very thin margins,” she said. If people’s insurance goes away, their health care costs don’t disappear; people often end up delaying care and showing up in the ER when they’re more severely ill. “Those costs have to be absorbed by the system. … Rural hospitals are less able to absorb that cost.”

Nationwide, nearly 80 rural hospitals have closed since 2010 and hundreds more are vulnerable, according to the National Rural Hospital Association. Cuts to hospitals under the Affordable Care Act have not helped. “But the things that are wrong with (the ACA) aren’t really addressed in this (Senate) bill,” Barton True said. “The forward-thinking things our hospitals are trying to do — this bill doesn’t help them do it.”

Construction of new Sunnyside hospital could start in fall, add more jobs

Ariella Tomlin, Reporter, KIMA

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- More than a year later, Sunnyside Community Hospital is finally bringing its vision of a new multi-million-dollar facility to life. Construction could start as early as this fall thanks to recent funding from the state and other sources.

Sunnyside joined Yakima Regional Center and Toppenish Community Hospital as part of the new Regional Health system earlier this year. Steady patient growth has been the biggest factor for a new facility that could transform healthcare in the valley.

“Regional Health is very excited about the progress that Sunnyside Community Hospital has made,” said Regional Health President John Gallagher. But with more than 560 employees landlocked on 2.8 acres, more space has been necessary to meet the needs of patients.

“The hospital acquired 50 acres out on the freeway at the Wanita exit for a master facility planned campus,” said Gallagher. A modern, open, and spacious campus design will be a reality funded by several sources.

Hospital officials said $120 million has been invested by the Sunnyside Community Hospital Association, as well as a $2 million loan from the state and money from the county and city. “It'll be really focused on out-patient services along with in-patient as well,” said Gallagher.

Despite 75 percent of services now trending toward out-patient care, hospital officials said quick accessibility is key. The new facility will have 58 patient beds - more than doubling the hospital's current capacity.

“Having someone who can just run across a walkway and be immediately available at our patients' bedsides is very important,” said Sunnyside’s Chief Nursing Officer Cynthia Lewis. New in-patient services will also come to the new facility, including behavioral health care and a rehab and detox unit, adding to more than a dozen specialized areas of healthcare already available at the hospital.

“It supports the care delivery process and our focus on the community, which is what we're all about in healthcare; that's why we're all here,” said Lewis. Job growth is another aspect of the new facility, with 32 positions being added, joining nearly 100 registered nurses at the hospital. Improving access and bringing more healthcare closer to home for families.

“We can continue to focus on the communities and reinvest back in those communities to improve the health and lives of the families,” said Gallagher. Regional Health employs more than 1,400 healthcare workers at its three hospitals. Regional Health officials said they are also seeking funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The hospital's design is currently being reviewed by the state Department of Health.

Community Health Systems Announces Definitive Agreement to Divest Two Washington Hospitals

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Sunnyside applying for $1M to support new hospital location

Yakima County’s economic development board soon will consider a city of Sunnyside application to spend $1 million on roads and infrastructure to support the new location of Sunnyside Community Hospital.

The Supporting Investments in Economic Development (SIED) Board will hear the application at its regular quarterly meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday. After the meeting, the board will make a recommendation to Yakima County commissioners, who make the final decision to approve or not.

Sunnyside Community Hospital is gearing up to build a much larger facility on 50 acres just off Interstate 82 near Waneta Road, about 2 miles from its current residential location.

Construction was slated for late 2016 or early 2017 but has not begun yet. The hospital has been busy; it also just bought Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center and Toppenish Community Hospital from corporate owner Community Health Systems in December.

Because the land where the new hospital will be built is undeveloped, the city must extend infrastructure to the area before the facility can be connected to sewer and water services. The city’s application also includes making road improvements to support the new location.

If approved, the $1 million request would come in two parts: a $500,000 loan, which the city would be required to pay back, in conjunction with the hospital; and a $500,000 grant, which would not be repaid.

That’s less than 1 percent of the approximately $120 million it will cost to build the new hospital, said Joe Schmitt, director of business recruitment with New Vision, Yakima County’s Development Association.

The city has also applied for $2 million from the state Department of Commerce Community Revitalization Board, $1.7 million of which would be a loan, with the remaining $300,000 given as a grant. The city of Sunnyside itself will contribute $1 million, and the hospital will pay roughly $3.9 million for a total cost of $7,940,462 for the various infrastructure improvements.

Right now, Sunnyside Community Hospital has only 25 beds; the new facility will have 58, including 10 inpatient psychiatric beds and 10 inpatient rehab beds. The design for the facility includes a five-story main hospital building along with a three-story medical office building.

Hospital directors have cited the Valley’s population growth and increased demand for medical services as the reason for expanding.

The new hospital is forecast to contribute significantly to the Sunnyside economy, Schmitt said: According to the SIED analysis, the hospital will add 32 new jobs, with an average wage of $34.07 an hour, which is more than twice the county’s median wage of $15.99 an hour.

Another 18 jobs are expected to be created as a “multiplier” of those 32 direct jobs, the analysis said, for a total of 50 new jobs.

In addition, by extending water and sewer lines and improving roads near the new location, Sunnyside will enable access to about 450 acres within the urban growth area, allowing for further development, Schmitt said.

“It is a boon as far as furthering more economic development growth out there,” he said. “A lot of it is undeveloped land. ... As you develop more urban growth out there, the amount of tax (the city) can collect goes up as well, so that has a positive impact all around.”


The cost breakdown of $1 of SIED money for every $120 of private money going into the hospital’s construction is “a really good investment,” Schmitt said, “especially for the amount of jobs and the income on those jobs.”

SIED’s analysis predicts a return on investment of $6.63 in annual economic activity for every $1 of SIED money invested.

The city of Sunnyside has been working with the hospital and other stakeholders on this application for more than a year.

County Commissioner Rand Elliott, who serves on the SIED Board, said he hasn’t yet reviewed the application. SIED’s investments are limited to infrastructure like roads and utilities that provide jobs and make land available for development, he said.

He did not speculate on the likelihood of the application’s approval. But from what he knows of the Sunnyside proposal, Elliott said, “It’s a big medical development; it would create a lot of professional jobs; and if it’s a feasible project, it would certainly be beneficial to the county’s economy.”

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