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UW alliance called growth opportunity for Renton's Valley Medical Center

Valley Medical Center CEO Rich Roodman explained Thursday night that health-care reform is one of the driving forces behind a strategic alliance of Valley and UW Medicine. - Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter
Valley Medical Center CEO Rich Roodman explained Thursday night that health-care reform is one of the driving forces behind a strategic alliance of Valley and UW Medicine.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter

Valley Medical Center CEO Rich Roodman made his case Thursday night for a strategic alliance with UW Medicine, calling it a "growth opportunity" when other hospitals are closing.

Roodman spoke for more than an hour and then fielded questions at an informational meeting at the IKEA Performing Arts Center at Renton High School attended by about 40 people.

The meeting is one of six that hospital administrators are presenting across the hospital district to explain the medical and business reasons for an alliance with the UW, which operates Harborview Medical Center and other key medical facilities.

Besides helping secure the medical center's financial future, according to Roodman, the alliance would enhance primary care and specialties. UW Medicine could expand is residency program to include training for emergency room doctors.

A Covington resident asked when the benefits would become apparent.

He said his plan is much faster than UW Medicine's plan.

"But it starts with a dream. It starts with a vision," Roodman said.

From the experience of Northwest Hospital in Seattle, which has affiliated with UW Medicine, there will be little change noticed in Valley's day-to-day operations, he said.

Like Valley Medical, Northwest Hospital has land where UW Medicine could site state-of-the-art cancer treatments. Valley has land, too, which someday could house a satellite of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

UW Medicine has set a deadline of May 31 to sign final documents on an alliance, with an operational date of July 1 if they are approved. Approval must come from the Valley's Board of Commissioners, the UW Medicine board and the University of Washington trustees.

Valley's board is being routinely briefed on the negotiations being conducted by executives and lawyers for UW Medicine and Valley. A detailed explanation of the reasons for an alliance and its impact on district and hospital operations was given at a board retreat in October.

A new 13-member board would oversee the actual operations of Valley. However, the five-member elected board would continue to make decisions about how to use the Public Hospital District 1 property taxes and oversee its assets.

The makeup of the larger board would include the five current commissioners and five who would be appointed by UW Medicine. UW Medicine CEO would appoint two members and sit on the board, too.

As an example of the board relationships, the 13-member board could have decided as part of a strategic plan to build the new South Tower, which today houses the hospital's Emergency Department. But only the elected board could commit to using the district's tax dollars to pay for it.

In 2010 the hospital district received about $18 million in property taxes, a little less than 2 percent of its annual revenue. The money is used to pay off the South Tower bonds.

Two board members, Anthony Hemstad and Dr. Aaron Heide, have warned the "devil is in the details" in vetting such an alliance. But Heide has also written in the Renton Reporter that how Valley's oversight board would expand – appointment rather than election – would circumvent the democratic process.

"I don't think they have a specific decision yet," Roodman said of UW Medicine process. His preference is "reputable" candidates, with no conflicts of interest, he said.

Roodman said his recommendation is that community leaders, such as Renton Mayor Denis Law, would suggest local candidates.

Audience member Cory Cappelletti, who ran as a write-in candidate in 2009 against commissioner Carolyn Parnell, asked why an outside board is allowed to appoint five board members.

Roodman has used the image of Valley Medical Center joining the UW Medicine family of medical institutions. Because the UW is the "parent," it insists on making the five appointments, he said.

"There are very few things that are deal breakers," he said. "This is a deal breaker."

In essence, 10 community members will oversee Valley Medical, which he said is an increase in local control. Still, as in any marriage, some autonomy is lost, he said.

Jim Sullivan of Renton, who has spoken at board meetings in favor of the alliance, said "this is a good deal for us. We are not losing control."

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