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County hospitals should merge health care

Three Rivers Hospital CEO Scott Graham made a sales pitch Monday to Okanogan County Commissioners to give a thumbs up to his efforts to get county hospitals into a new medical organization already uniting Chelan, Grant and Douglas counties.

While he provided some very good reasons for joining the group, Commissioners Ray Campbell and Sheilah Kennedy said wait. At this time, the commissioners’ decision to hold off is a smart move.

Kennedy properly pointed out that it doesn’t do any good for the county’s hospitals to join if they can’t work on consolidating services here at home first. In short, Kennedy said local hospitals need to learn to consolidate health care services before joining a group that will call for more services to be shifted to the Wenatchee and Moses Lake areas.

Before Three Rivers, Mid-Valley and North Valley hospitals join forces with the hospitals serving Chelan, Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Ephrata, Quincy and Moses Lake, the local districts must be willing to reduce redundancies. That may mean closing a birthing unit, sharing rehabilitation services and slashing administration overhead.

When asked if the CEOs at any of the local hospitals had moved in that direction, Graham said nothing “formal” has occurred since a meeting last year, when Kennedy then called for consolidations. He also pointed out that last year none of the local districts was truly interested in merging.

Okanogan County has three very good rural hospitals. But they are all competing for the same small customer base while incurring large overhead expenses. Until the population of the county grows or health care costs decrease, local hospitals will continue to struggle.

While Graham’s efforts to join a regional medical consortium are admirable, his efforts would be better spent on consolidation of local hospital districts and their services.

County commissioners should continue to demand local hospitals work together to find a way to remain viable while keeping health care services in Okanogan County.

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