Reactions are mixed on either side of the Cascades on MultiCare Health System’s acquisition of two Spokane-area hospitals.
The Tacoma nonprofit hospital system announced late Thursday it planned to buy two hospitals in Spokane County and a suite of clinics owned by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, Inc. for $425 million. The hospitals and clinics are collectively called Rockwood Health System.
Registered nurse Tami O’Marro has worked for 26 years for Valley Hospital in Spokane Valley, the smaller of the two hospitals, with 123 beds. Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, the other in the deal, has 388 beds.
O’Marro said members of her union are “thrilled” MultiCare bought the hospital, which is owned by a for-profit company. O’Marro belongs to SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, which has 28,000 members statewide.
“At this point in time, we are talking with fellow employees. They are pretty excited about the change,” O’Marro said. “Our union does work with other MultiCare facilities in Washington and they work well together.”
SEIU president and registered nurse Diane Sosne said her union and MultiCare have a history of working well together to improve patient care and help union members work their way up the career ladder, from being service employees to becoming registered nurses.
“MultiCare is a game-changer” she said of the news. “… It’s a wonderful thing for the patients to have a local Washington state health system.”
SEIU members at both Valley and Deaconess hospitals are in the midst of contract negotiations, O’Marro said, and have been without one since July. Nurses, service staff and technical workers are unionized at Valley, while service and technical workers, but not nurses, are unionized at Deaconess. Contract negotiations with CHS stalled.
Marce Edwards, spokeswoman for MultiCare, said they expect to spend about $25 million on a new electronic health record for the system, but will have to get to know the facilities better before committing to further investments.
Workers at both Spokane-area hospitals went on strike in 2013, according to the Spokesman-Review. Members then asked the hospitals to increase staffing and worried that cuts hurt patients.
Staffing levels are also at issue at another MultiCare property, Tacoma General Hospital, where nurses are considering a strike vote. The nurses there have worked without a contract since late 2015 and say more nurses need to be hired to cover breaks.
Hospital executives have said hiring more nurses would cost $13 million.
In a statement, Washington State Nurses Association’s assistant executive director of labor Christine Himmelsbach said MultiCare’s timing is “appalling given the problems at Tacoma General Hospital.” In her statement, she asked MultiCare CEO Bill Robertson to reach a contract agreement with Tacoma General nurses that will, among other issues, provide working conditions “that will attract nurses to Tacoma General rather than chasing them away.”
CHS sold the hospitals and clinics as it struggles financially. Bloomberg News reported in September that the system planned to sell 12 hospitals before the end of the year.
MultiCare and CHI Franciscan Health have pledged to build a psychiatric hospital in Tacoma. The two told state officials during the application process that it had the $40 million to pay for the 120-bed hospital, but have been looking Pierce County and its many cities to contribute.
“I don’t know that the two are related. We still have this continuum of care issue that we have to address in Pierce County,” said Republican Doug Richardson, chairman of the Pierce County Council. The purchase in Spokane “doesn't change the calculus of still having a need here.”
The sale is expected to be completed in spring.
Staff writer Brynn Grimley contributed to this report.