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Future of UW Medicine/Valley Medical alliance now in hands of judge

A King County Superior Court judge could decide the future of the strategic alliance between UW Medicine and the owner of Valley Medical Center next month.

A hearing is tentatively set for Dec. 28 before Judge Michael C. Hayden on UW Medicine's motion to summarily dismiss a lawsuit filed in early October by the commissioners of Public Hospital District No. 1, which owns the medical center.

The hospital district's lawsuit maintains that the elected district commissioners could not delegate their legislative responsibilities for a public institution to unelected decision makers.

In May 2011 the hospital commission voted 3-2 to approve the alliance, which became effective on June 30, 2011, following the approval of the UW Medicine board and the University of Washington Board of Trustees.

The alliance's 13 trustees, who include the five hospital district commissioners, oversee the medical operations of Valley Medical. The hospital commission is responsible for overseeing the public assets of the hospital and the property taxes that support it.

However, the hospital commission majority changed with the election of Dr. Paul Joos in the 2011 general election to replace Don Jacobson on the board. Joos, along with commissioners Anthony Hemstad and Dr. Aaron Heide, voted to pursue the lawsuit against UW Medicine.

Heide and Hemstad voted against forming the alliance, which had undergone months of legal review and public discussion.

The legal team for UW Medicine filed the university's response on Thursday, pointing out that two state statutes authorize such strategic alliances and the sharing of responsibilities was "carefully structured" in the agreement.

"In this lawsuit, the District now seeks to back out of its contractual obligations simply because a current majority of its commissioners has taken a different view of the Agreement," the university's lawyers wrote in their response.

"However, the District is legally bound to comply with the terms of the Agreement it signed," they wrote.

The Renton Reporter on Friday attempted to reach the hospital district's attorney, Bruce Disend, for comment. An inquiry to Philip A. Talmadge, who signed the district's lawsuit along with Disend, was referred to Joos, who couldn't be reached for comment.

In the hospital district lawsuit, Disend and Talmadge are seeking a declaratory judgment from a judge that entering the strategic alliance was beyond the power of the hospital district commissioners.

"The District has standing to bring this action because its rights and legal relations and those of its citizens are adversely affected by the Strategic Alliance Agreement," they wrote.

In a letter on Friday to executives at Valley Medical Center, Dr. Paul G. Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine, asked that everyone continue "to dedicate their best efforts to the mission of improving health. The lawsuit should not distract us from our important work to achieve the 'Triple Aim' of better care for individuals, better health for populations, and reduction of per-capita costs."

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