COMMENTARY: Two views on VMC, UW strategic alliance
March 3, 2011 · 9:25 AM
The following commentary by Dr. Aaron Heide was submitted to the Renton Reporter, Covington/Maple Valley Reporter and the Kent Reporter. The Covington/Maple Valley Reporter posted the commentary online, which drew the response which follows Heide’s commentary.
HOSPITAL AFFILIATION CIRCUMVENTS DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
By DR. AARON HEIDE
Commissioner, Public Hospital District 1
I am writing this out of concern and hopefully a call for action regarding the upcoming affiliation between the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle and Valley Medical Center (VMC) in Renton. Although, on the surface this appears to be an incredible opportunity for VMC and a welcome addition to the already growing influence of the UW, there are several details of the potential deal that I believe are quite concerning. The most egregious aspect of the affiliation is the attempt to circumvent our democratic process.
Unlike most hospitals in King County, Valley Medical Center is a public hospital district and collects millions in property tax dollars from residents in south King County. Valley also enjoys the benefits of avoiding taxes and gets government rates on loans and other ventures. These dollars and the operation of the hospital and hospital district are overseen by a five-member, publicly elected Board of Commissioners. In recent years there has been a public outcry on how VMC’s administration has misused these funds for political purposes, resulting in the largest fines levied to the hospital and its CEO in Washington state history.
This has led to the replacement of three incumbent board members in the last two elections. Unfortunately, only two members of the board have any interest in any sort of reform or accountability, so the administration still has a solid 3-2 majority for anything it requests.
This coming November there will be an election for one of the seats the administration now controls. The long-entrenched administration does not want to take any more chances at entrusting the public in choosing this new board member. It is their belief that if there is a public election, the taxpayers of the district might continue in attempting to elect reformers and those interested in true transparency and oversight. If this were to happen, it is likely that those administrators would lose their jobs. Therefore their solution is to bypass the election and immediately create a new VMC board of 13 members. VMC administrators would be deeply involved in appointing eight non-elected new board members to be added to the already existing five elected officials. These appointees would have equal voting rights as the elected officials and ultimately not be held accountable to the citizens of the district.
It has been insinuated at town hall meetings and at board meetings by the VMC administrators and lawyers that the public cannot be trusted in electing new commissioners as recent elections have not brought about the commissioners favored by the hospital administration. So what better way to deal with this but to appoint a majority voting-block so that the public stops having any say in their affairs? And, of course, this new affiliation must occur in a very short period of time before the next election.
There have been several attempts at discussing this in the open but little can be done under the current makeup of the board. The local media has little interest in questioning the actions of VMC officials as much of their advertising revenue is generated by dollars from VMC. Few local politicians have taken an interest.
This is a truly disturbing series of events. I am but one person attempting to perform my elected duties to provide oversight of the tax dollars of the citizens of Public Hospital District No. 1. I am also concerned as a citizen, a business owner and taxpayer, physician and commissioner that the democratic process is about to be annihilated. There are more town meetings coming where the citizens will be able to hear the slanted drum-beat of this great affiliation without really hearing the details of why this needs to happen, and happen so quickly. When one has no voice in bringing about change, then all one can do is make noise. Without your help, that is all that I am really doing, making noise.
Dr. Aaron Heide is a commissioner for Public Hospital District No 1.
SOME PRIVATE INTERESTS STAND TO LOSE IF HOSPITALS AFFILIATE
By JOSHUA LYONS
Owner, Pinnacle Physical Therapy
In response to letter submitted to Maple Valley/Covington Reporter by Dr. Aaron Heide regarding Valley Medical Center and UW Medicine Affiliation:
Dr. Aaron Heide is concerned about the circumvention of the democratic process. He is against the proposed affiliation between University of Washington Medicine (UW) and Valley Medical Center (VMC) and he would like the voting public to believe that his motives are based purely out of an altruistic responsibility to democracy. The truth:
Dr. Aaron Heide is head of the stroke unit at Auburn Regional Hospital. The fact that he was elected to the Valley Medical Center Board of Directors is clear evidence that the democratic system that he speaks to is broken. Imagine the consequences for a moment that Boeing had a board that was publicly elected and somehow a high-ranking employee of Airbus was able to get elected to that board. The simple truth is that Dr. Heide competes professionally with VMC and has absolutely nothing to gain from the enhanced services and reputation that VMC would gain from an affiliation with UW Medicine.
This reader is completely mystified by Dr. Heide’s assertion that VMC officials have insinuated that the public cannot be trusted to make a proper decision in upcoming elections. First of all, they haven’t. I have been to every board meeting in the last five months and multiple other meetings and even when Dr. Heide is not conspicuously missing, he is rarely paying attention to the information being disseminated. Secondly, this particular citizen would like to point to the public electing a competitor of VMC to its board as evidence that an assertion that the voting public isn’t making the best choices may have some merit.
A Valley Medical Center affiliation with UW Medicine is a spectacular opportunity for the consumers of healthcare services in South King County. There are a variety of private interests that stand to be left holding the short straw if this affiliation takes place. While on one hand fascinating, the truth is that Dr. Heide’s obstructionist tactics in regard to a VMC/UW affiliation are a sad example of how private interests can infiltrate our political system and use it against us.
Joshua Lyons is owner of Pinnacle Physical Therapy in Maple Valley, Covington and Enumclaw.