Dignity Health will be a strong partner for ACH

On Wednesday, the board of directors of Ashland Community Hospital gave its unanimous approval for a merger between ACH and Dignity Health. The previous day, the Dignity Health board also gave its approval.

There are steps to complete before the merger is final, including approval by Ashland City Council, but we are confident those steps will be completed before the end of November.

Dignity Health provides our hospital, its 400 employees, the 233 members of the medical staff, and the citizens of Ashland and neighboring cities with a strong partner — bringing exceptional operational and planning skills, sufficient financial capital to meet current and future needs, and important economies of scale. Also, importantly, Dignity brings a compassionate tradition of caring for all citizens, including those who are poor and disadvantaged. Dignity will support Ashland Community Hospital's independence and unique service mix. They will help us grow with new services to complement those we already deliver.

This journey started over a year ago when our board (citizens recruited locally and appointed by Ashland City Council) realized our mission to provide high-quality health care services to the people of Southern Oregon required more resources than we could muster. Like most independent community hospitals, we are faced with flat revenues as more and more of our patients are covered by Medicare and Medicaid or have no coverage at all.

At the same time, expenses rise and the need for expensive capital equipment has accelerated. We also face a new world where hospitals and physicians must build large, strong networks in order to provide the sophisticated care called for under health care reform.

Ducking the question or hoping that things would get better was not an option for us. We needed to protect the future of health care in Ashland. Our board also sensed an opportunity to expand and improve our suite of health care services, while protecting hundreds of relatively high-paying jobs here in the valley.

We sent invitations to 24 systems and organizations across the nation. After preliminary screening, five organizations made concrete proposals to the board. Each proposal was complex, thoughtfully prepared, and challenged our board to imagine a new future. After much discussion and analysis the board voted. The clear winner was Dignity Health.

Dignity Health has 40 acute care hospitals in the Western U.S. and over $10 billion in assets. They operate in large, urban settings and in smaller communities. They run hospitals just down the road in Mt. Shasta, Redding, and Red Bluff. They are a not-for-profit, secular (i.e. not religious) organization committed to investing in the communities they serve.

Dignity Health brings significant financial resources to our affiliation. They will be able to assume our debts, but more importantly invest in medical and information technology at a time when both are critical to the success of modern hospitals.

Our hospital will enjoy substantial savings in purchasing supplies through the Dignity supply chain. Our costs of administrative functions will go down as we share key services with other Dignity facilities.

Dignity Health has a strong track record of planning and executing growth strategies that build on the strengths of each hospital. And at the same time they work well with neighboring hospitals to coordinate care and services when those arrangements make the best sense.

We are sensitive to, and appreciate the concerns raised by, a number of our neighbors about issues such as elective abortions and support for Oregon's assisted-suicide law. As a board we realized those services are not delivered in a hospital setting, and we would be able to continue to support our physicians in the conversations they have with their patients.

In the end, our board recognized restrictions in these two areas could be met more appropriately by community resources, and the overwhelming benefits offered through a Dignity affiliation would meet our obligation to provide a sustainable, high-quality hospital in Ashland.

The most important advantage that an affiliation with Dignity Health brings to the Rogue Valley is a continuation and strengthening of the special, patient-centered care Ashland Community Hospital is known for. We will keep our name. We will keep our fabulous employees, who create a caring, healing atmosphere every day. We will be able to support the dedicated physicians in our community, and we will be able to look forward to the second hundred years of service to this valley.

Doug Gentry is chairman of the Ashland Community Hospital Board of Directors and an instructor at Southern Oregon University.

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