Voters will decide the future of Monroe hospital

MONROE, Wash. -- A local community could soon lose its only emergency room, and perhaps the entire hospital, if voters aren't willing to pay.

For staff and patients at Monroe's Valley General Hospital, the clock is ticking. Supporters are trying to get a new levy passed to save the hospital, but officials are also taking criticism for how they manage the hospital's finances.

For the last five years, the hospital has been losing money and has made desperate attempts to cut back on staff and resources.

"This hospital is very important to the community, and losing it the community would be losing a great deal," said paramedic firefighter Kurt Schneider.

Without passing a new levy, urgent and trauma care could be eliminated. That would mean patients would be forced to drive further for treatment.

"What's at stake here is your ability as a citizen of Monroe to see a doctor within a very timely fashion," Schneider said.

Prop 1 is asking taxpayers for an extra $46 a year. While many support the proposal, some say the hospital hasn't used the money it does have very wisely.

A state audit was also critical of how the hospital handled its finances. It found Valley General spent $9,300 on a banquet, including $1,300 in alcohol.

In response, CEO Eric Jensen said the hospital didn't actually pay for the booze.

"The physicians collected dues to pay for the $1,300 themselves. It was never at the expense of the hospital or taxpayers," he said.

Since that 2011 audit, financial operations have been changed and new management was put in place.

Whether or not the hospital mismanaged its finances in the past, many in the community say losing the hospital would be a disaster.

"There's a lot at stake here," said registered nurse Susan Susor. "I cannot imagine Monroe without a hospital."

If the levy doesn't pass, Jensen said 300 jobs could be at stake, and many residents fear the local economy would be hit just as hard as the healthcare services.

"Unfortunately, you never know when your going to need to go to the emergency room, so it's a value judgement you place yourself," Schneider said.

Prop 1 ballots are due back by April 23.