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Hospital district board to appeal UW alliance decision to state Supreme Court

Valley Medical Center - Submitted
Valley Medical Center
— image credit: Submitted

Public Hospital District No. 1 will ask the state Supreme Court to hear its challenge to the strategic alliance between UW Medicine and Valley Medical Center.

A majority of the district’s commissioners had asked for a special meeting to decide whether to pursue the district’s challenge, following a state Court of Appeals ruling June 23 that the alliance is legal.

But Dr. Paul Joos, president of the district’s Board of Commissioners, told fellow commissioners Tuesday night that on July 3, he authorized attorney Phil Talmadge to file a brief with the Supreme Court, asking for the review.

Two commissioners, Barbara Drennen and Carolyn Parnell, questioned why other board members weren’t given a chance to make the decision.

“It would be more fair if all three of us had a say,” said Parnell.

But Joos cited a resolution adopted by a 3-2 vote of the commission on Jan. 7, 2013, as his authority for authorizing Talmadge, a former state Supreme Court justice, to pursue the case. Talmadge has represented the district in the lawsuit.

The resolution reads:

“Be it now therefore resolved, that the President is authorized to take all steps necessary to initiate an appeal of the Superior Court ruling in order to determine whether the Strategic Alliance Agreement with the UW is valid.”

The resolution was signed by Joos, Anthony Hemstad, who has resigned from the board, and Dr. Aaron Heide, who has indicated to Joos he plans to resign from the board.

A King County Superior Court judge on Dec. 28, 2012, dismissed a lawsuit brought by the hospital district that questioned the legality of the alliance.

The district then appealed the Superior Court ruling to the state Supreme Court, which remanded the appeal to the state Court of Appeals, rather that directly review the strategic alliance.

In its ruling, the appeals court found that the hospital district has a right under state law to enter into a joint operating agreement.

Joos said the odds the Supreme Court will review the case are not high.

“It’s a long shot. But I think we owe it to the taxpayers of the district to get the final answer,” he said.

The district had 30 days to appeal the appellate court’s decision, issued June 23. The board meets the first Monday of each month, or in the case of July, July 7. The July 7 meeting was canceled, but there was a question at Tuesday’s meeting who canceled the meeting.

Joos said he didn’t decide to cancel the July meeting. He indicated he checked with Heide about a meeting but not other commission members. He indicated it would have been a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act to contact members individually to get their opinion on the appeal.

Drennen didn’t learn the meeting was canceled until the last minute – after changing her schedule so she could attend.

Joos offered an apology. He said he understood that the board bylaws gave him the power to cancel a meeting. But he learned from the district’s lawyer that a majority of the board has to decide to cancel a meeting.

Drennen and Parnell indicated they want the legal challenge to end. Commissioner Tamara Sleeter indicated she wanted lawsuit to continue.

Drennen reiterated her public comments in the meeting in an interview afterward.

“Like I said to him, it’s very disrespectful not to include all the commissioners. And, also, when he contacted Heide and Dr. Sleeter, why didn’t he contact us?” she said, pointing out that Heide “hasn’t even been here.”

The strategic alliance, approved 3-2 by the hospital district commission in May 2011, enhances medical services and brings new ones to the residents of the district, which continues to own Valley Medical Center.

Then-commissioners Don Jacobson and Sue Bowman and Parnell voted to form the alliance; Hemstad and Heide voted against the alliance.

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