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Alliance a key issue in hospital district race | ELECTION 2013

Dr. Tamara Sleeter has delivered about 5,000 babies during the last 30 years or so; her obstetrics practice is across the street from Valley Medical Center

Sue Bowman spent a career in hospital administration; she has served as a hospital district commissioner for six years, at a time when Valley Medical was and is facing strong financial headwinds.

Sleeter is challenging Bowman for her Position 5 seat on the five-member Public Hospital District No. 1 Board of Commissioners. The hospital district owns Valley Medical Center.

Sleeter has never run for political office, but she has watched Valley Medical Center grow during the last three decades.

“At this stage in my career I welcome the opportunity to participate in the future of the hospital by being on the board,” she said. “I’ve been here many years and I feel that I have something to bring to the table in terms of experience, thoughts and wisdom. And it’s on that basis that I am running.”

Bowman was encouraged to run in 2007, after the hospital district failed overwhelmingly to annex a large area in southeast King County. She beat the incumbent, Gary Kohlwes, easily, even though she was out of the country for much of the campaign.

She had to dispel the notion she was running with another commission candidate Anthony Hemstad, as a reformer. That wasn’t the case.

“I was just going to listen and see where I could make some kind of changes but certainly not to take on people,” she said in an interview. “That’s how I have floated these last six years, was being by myself.”

She served two years as the commission president and was part of the three-member commission majority that approved the strategic alliance between the hospital district and UW Medicine.

Sleeter of Renton has chosen the option of full reporting of campaign financing to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

The largest contribution as of Wednesday – $5,000 –  to Sleeter’s campaign was from Valley Eye and Laser Center PS, whose officers are Dr. Paul Joos and Dr. Peter Jones. They practice together at the clinic on the Valley Medical campus.

Joos is the president of the Public Hospital District board. Jones also personally contributed $800 to Sleeter’s campaign.

As of Wednesday under full reporting, Sleeter had raised $11,900, including a $5,000 personal loan, and spent $868, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

Bowman of Renton is using the disclosure commission’s mini-reporting, which means she isn’t required to file detailed financial reports to the state. To meet the mini-reporting standard, she must raise and spend no more than $5,000 and collect no more than $500 total from any one contributor.

Bowman said she hopes she has some name recognition, but “I am just not a campaigner,” she said.

Sleeter’s residency in the district was challenged by community member Jim Sullivan, but the county’s elections director ruled she lives in the district. Bowman in her statement in the voters pamphlet states that Sleeter doesn’t live in the district. The pamphlet was printed before the elections director ruled on Sleeter’s residency.

Bowman is profiled first, based on an alphabetical listing of the candidates’ names.

Sue Bowman

Bowman always thought that boards and commissions “trusted each other and you worked together in unity,” which, she said, wasn’t happening on the hospital board. She hoped to “get these people to play together in the sandbox,” she said.

But for many years the commission had a hired parliamentarian to help keep order on the board. Unfortunately, she said, the dissension didn’t go away. But she’s not going to give up, hoping that a new member (and her re-election) will create a “good majority” on the board and a “let’s play together” attitude.

The strategic alliance has been in place for slightly more than two years. Its implementation, Bowman said, “is going great.”

“Oh, gosh, it’s amazing what the U-Dub is bringing to us and what we are bringing to them,” she said.

She says “wholeheartedly” that the alliance is not at risk because of a lawsuit now before the state Court of Appeals.

“That alliance will never be broken,” she said, adding “it was no easy task” for UW Medicine and Valley CEO Rich Roodman to make the alliance work.

If there was a big challenge, it was the dissension among staff, at all levels, about the alliance, she said. “I don’t see that anymore.”

Some have questioned whether the elected commission gave up too much authority to the appointed alliance Board of Trustees, the crux of the lawsuit before the appeals court.

But the elected commission still has much authority, she said, and has “a lot of say” on the trustee board.

“I don’t see it as a problem,” she said.

“When we put this alliance together, we had meetings all over the community. We had meetings at our board meetings, explaining to the commissioners how this was going to happen,” she said.

The alliance, she said, isn’t “overtaking anything.” There was and is an agreement and the commissioners still have an important part to play, she said.

Dr. Tamara Sleeter

The biggest challenges facing the hospital district are economic, said Sleeter.

“We are in a tight situation; the rolling recession has finally rolled over medical care,” she said.

Facing the district are decreasing reimbursements and a higher mix of low-paying payers, the amount of money the hospital is writing off, and the ongoing expenses with some of the hospital’s expansions and the new electronic records system.

“I think we need to look closely at all our expenses overall – salaries, wages, benefits – including not just employees but administration as well,” she said.

The close look includes Rich Roodman’s pay.

“Considering he’s one of the highest-paid CEOs in the hospital business, I wonder if that’s an appropriate spot to pare some of our expenses,” she said.

Hospital commissioners also sit on the alliance Board of Trustees.

The alliance board, she said, is a “very broad, overlying board that is overseeing the hospital to a certain extent.” It includes many members from outside the district and the five hospital commissioners.

District commissioners “were elected to be trustees of the public’s money and the public’s interest in having a public district hospital,” she said.

District commissioners, Sleeter said, have “given some of their financial responsibilities to the overlying board without really listening to the taxpayers.”

Had she been a hospital district commissioner, Sleeter said she probably would have approved the alliance, “but with more respect for its citizens of the hospital district.” The board could have shown that respect by asking district residents what they thought of the alliance.

“I think it’s inevitable we have an alliance, if we want to survive,” she said.

In recent years, the hospital district board has “been a wee bit dysfunctional,” she said.

“I can be a bridge between the physicians on the board and the non-physicians on the board,” she said. “I kind of have a balanced approach and the years of experience in dealing with people who have different ideas. They might find that I am a moderator to some extent.”

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