Peace Health, UW collaboration eases continuing care, training


Health care is in the news. With health care reform as the backdrop, physicians are changing the way they practice medicine, insurance companies and providers of health care are negotiating new forms of payment, and local hospitals and health systems are seeking new affiliations.

As the CEO and chief mission officer of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, the largest provider of health services in Whatcom County for over 120 years, I would like to help you understand one recent news story: the announced affiliation between PeaceHealth and University of Washington Medicine.

The proposed affiliation brings together two organizations with similar missions to better serve its communities through greater coordination, improved access, enhanced services and increased ability to train the next generation of health care professionals.

The agreement will formalize a positive relationship that for years has existed between the two organizations, while at the same time will position both to better serve patients and communities under health care reform.

The proposed affiliation means that UW Medicine will serve as PeaceHealth's preferred partner for complex care, giving PeaceHealth patients seamless access to care for these services when needed, and ensuring that as much care as possible is delivered in our community.

The strengths of both organizations - in serving all in need, securely sharing information via electronic medical records, training the next generation of health care professionals, and investing in quality improvement programs - are magnified and enhanced when they are more closely aligned.

As a follow-up to a number of stories that have been published since the UW Medicine / PeaceHealth letter of intent was announced, I want to provide more specific information about the timing and the intent of this agreement. Both PeaceHealth and the UW Medicine have presented proposals for affiliation to three Northwest Washington public hospital districts - Island, Skagit and Cascade (the interlocals.) These three hospital districts are seeking affiliation proposals to strengthen care delivery in their respective communities. Under this agreement - which will occur even without these hospital district affiliations, and support PeaceHealth's care continuum in the northwest - PeaceHealth and UW Medicine will meld their proposals into one, which the interlocals will seriously consider.

Affiliations are being looked at across the state and across the nation. We are excited to be invited to respond to our neighboring hospitals and demonstrate how together we can build a regionally focused system of care for the patients, families and communities we mutually serve. We are equally excited about the work we could do with the University of Washington to expand excellence in health care for the people we mutually serve. We believe we will be better together.

A key component of the non-binding letter of intent with UW Medicine is that it does not involve any change in governance, leadership or ownership of either UW Medicine or PeaceHealth. Our intent to work together has no bearing whatsoever on either organization's menu of services. There is no effect on the provision of reproductive or end-of-life services - or any other services - by either organization.

PeaceHealth has deep roots in Bellingham. The sisters came here in the late 1800s to serve the people who live and work in Whatcom County. While our mission remains essentially the same - to relieve pain and suffering and promote individual and community health - how we fulfill this mission is indeed changing. We all have a stake in getting health reform right in our community. I believe that the UW affiliation is one example of how we are doing this.


Nancy Steiger is CEO/chief mission officer of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham.

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