Private hospital asking for taxpayer bailout

ABERDEEN, Wash. -- The community's only major hospital with a Level 3 trauma center is asking voters to approve a taxing district to help ensure it's economic survival.

Grays Harbor Community Hospital is Aberdeen's largest private employer with more than 650 people. Its emergency room treats as many as 35,000 patients a year.

Establishing a new district will enable the hospital to collect property taxes. Hospital administrators say if they fail to secure public funding they would have to consider serious cutbacks in services, forcing some residents to travel to Olympia for treatment at another major hospital.

Grays Harbor Community Hospital spokesperson David Quigg says without an infusion of revenue the hospital would consider doing away with surgeons assigned at all times to the trauma center and specialists on call 24-hours a day. Childbirth services could also be cut.

"Imagine being on the coast and having to drive an hour-and-a-half to have a baby," Quigg said. "That is not a community hospital. Those are the kinds of things we could lose."

Administrators blame the faltering local economy for a reduction in revenue over the years. When local companies close or relocate and people lose jobs, they also lose their private insurance.

Private and commercial insurance is profitable for hospitals. Reimbursement rates for patients on Medicare or Medicaid do not cover costs.

"We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and a disproportionately high percentage of people on Medicaid," explained Quigg. "That makes it very hard to generate the income we need to cover costs and provide the level of service people in this community deserve."

The hospital decided to seek a tax district after the legislature passed a law requiring hospitals to go public if they want to receive higher Medicaid reimbursement rates.

If voters approve a new tax district in the August 5th election, the hospital would raise 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. It could later raise that rate to 75 cents per $1,000.

Not all taxpayers agree that is the best course of action.

"People around here are already strapped, with living expenses and a lousy economy," said Terry Laborde, whose father moved to the area a year ago. "I think people are tired of being asked for more money."

Some residents would like more detailed information on the hospital's finances before deciding how to vote. They wonder if administrators could do more to cut costs and run operations more efficiently.

But Quigg says Grays Harbor Community Hospital laid off 8-percent of its entire workforce two years ago, including 20 percent of all management staff.