Ashland gives OK to Asante hospital merger

ASHLAND — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to sign off on an agreement allowing Medford-based Asante to take over Ashland Community Hospital.

For the financially struggling, independent community hospital, the vote concludes a nearly two-year effort to merge itself with a larger hospital system to stay afloat financially.

"I think this is the right thing for the Ashland community and the right thing for Asante," said Roy Vinyard, Asante president and chief executive officer.

Councilors Greg Lemhouse and Dennis Slattery, the council liaison to the ACH board, echoed Vinyard's praise of the agreement put forth by the four negotiating parties.

The Ashland Community Hospital board and the ACH Foundation board approved the affiliation agreement with Asante in May, and the Asante board approved the agreement Monday.

Under the term of the affiliation, the city transfers its sole corporate membership in ACH and the real estate on which it sits to Asante.

Asante has agreed to continue operating ACH as a general hospital for the next 15 years, make $10 million in capital improvements over the next three years, and take on about $6 million in pension obligations and about $8 million in debt.

Asante will make every effort to offer employment to current ACH employees, according to the agreement.

With about 400 employees, the hospital is one of Ashland's biggest employers and it pays the highest average wage, according to ACH officials. Asante also operates Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford and Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass.

"We're getting a real deal," said CouncilorCarol Voisin. "We're giving away a lot but in return we're getting a general hospital that is guaranteed for the next 15 years."

Threatening its doors may close without the support of a larger hospital system, ACH first proposed a merger with San Francisco-based Dignity Health. The deal fell through in October 2012 after Dignity Health pulled away from negotiations because the organizations couldn't agree on final closing conditions, and "residual resistance"

in the community, an ACH official reported then.

During the course of the seven-month negotiation process, some community members raised concerns that Dignity Health, because of its ties to the Catholic Church, would restrict women's reproductive services and the rights of dying patients to request lethal prescriptions, as permitted by Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.

"I think this is the best deal we can go forward with and I hope the community understands that," Lemhouse said. "This hospital hopefully will be here for this community for generations to come. ... In the long run it (the Asante affiliation) is the best thing for the community."

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at

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