The courting rituals of Puget Sound-area hospitals drew a fresh participant Tuesday as Bremerton’s Harrison Medical Center announced its intent to join Tacoma’s multi-hospital Franciscan Health System.
Harrison is the latest in a series of hospitals that have joined either Franciscan or Tacoma’s other health care giant, MultiCare Health System.
The Bremerton hospital’s affiliation with Franciscan must still gain the approval of both the Franciscan and the Harrison boards and be reviewed by the Washington State Department of Health and other regulatory authorities. The two medical entities said they expect the alliance will be approved by next summer.
The latest activity among area hospitals is driven by cost pressures, both and present and future, that are pushing hospitals nationwide to cut costs and improve efficiencies.
Both Harrison President Scott Bosch and Franciscan Chief Executive Officer Joe Wilczek said the proposed affiliation will offer both entities economies of scale and the elimination of redundant functions.
At Harrison, for instance, said Bosch, the hospital had drawn up plans for a $7 million building to house the hospital’s computer functions. Those plans have been canceled because the connection with Franciscan will allow Harrison to share in the Tacoma system’s Epic health care records network.
The alliance also will allow Harrison to share training facilities with the Franciscan hospitals, to buy supplies and services in larger and less expensive quantities and get help from more experts both in medicine and business.
The decision to ally itself with Franciscan came after nearly a year of study, said Bosch. Harrison could have continued alone as an independent and still remained profitable, but the hospital decided that the alliance would cut costs and provide better care to patients in Kitsap County and surrounding communities.
Harrison’s board considered three nonprofit health systems as possible partners, said Bosch. In the end, it picked Franciscan because it offered the most possibilities for improving Harrison’s care and efficiency. He declined to name the other two health systems, citing confidentiality agreements.
Under the preliminary plan being considered by both medical entities, Franciscan would form a separate division consisting of Harrison and its clinics and satellite facilities and of Gig Harbor’s St. Anthony Hospital and its associated medical facilities. That division would be headed by Bosch. St. Anthony’s president would report to Bosch, and Bosch would report to Wilczek.
Tuesday’s announcement will have little or no immediate effect on staff members at Harrison and its clinics. Harrison, under the terms of the alliance, would remain a secular hospital but would be governed by the ethical standards promulgated by Catholic Health Initiatives, Franciscan’s parent.
Among those standards are a ban on abortions and physician- assisted suicides in Franciscan facilities. Bosch said Harrison now allows neither of those procedures, so there will be only limited changes to bring Harrison into compliance with Franciscan’s standards on more minor items.
The combined health system will have nearly 11,000 employees, 2,000 medical staff members and annual net revenues of $2 billion.
Under the Franciscan umbrella will be St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor, St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Enumclaw, St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood and Harrison. Along with those hospitals, the Franciscan network will included dozens of clinics and urgent care and specialty centers.
Burien’s Highline Medical Center is just weeks away, said Wilczek, from signing an affiliation agreement with Franciscan. The Burien hospital announced months ago it was exploring that possibility.
Meanwhile, Franciscan and PeaceHealth of Vancouver, Wash., are planning a merger to create a new health system to be half-owned each by Franciscan parent Catholic Health Initiatives and PeaceHealth. That combination is expected to take place by mid-summer.
As Franciscan continues to add to its health care network, so does its Tacoma rival, MultiCare.
That health system early this month brought Auburn Regional Medical Center into its network. In recent years, it acquired Puyallup’s Good Samaritan Hospital and built a $400 million medical tower there. MultiCare also has plans to build a new hospital at Covington in South King County.