Funds would be used to build new hospital
Voters will decide in the Nov. 7 election whether to approve a $72-million bond issue by Three Rivers Hospital to fund construction of a new hospital at the current location in Brewster.
Three Rivers Hospital is seeking the bond to replace hospital buildings that are 75 years old, and cannot be remodeled to meet modern health care standards, according to the hospital proposal.
The ballot proposition appears under the hospital’s official name, Douglas-Okanogan County Public Hospital District No. 1. If approved, the proposition “would authorize the District to construct, equip and furnish a new hospital and carry out other capital improvements deemed necessary or advisable by the [hospital] Commission; issue no more than $72,000,000 of general obligation bonds maturing within 30 years; and levy annual excess property taxes to repay the bonds …” according to the ballot language.
The levy rate to repay the bond would be $1.39 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, based on current property values, according to the hospital. That would equal $695 per year for a home valued at $500,000.
To pass, the bond proposition must be approved by a 60% supermajority, with a voter turnout of more than 40% of the number of people voting in the last general election in the hospital district.
“A new hospital will provide a modern ER, state-of-the-art laboratory and imaging, expanded surgical services, comfortable and updated inpatient wing, and room to grow to meet the needs of our community,” according to a statement for the proposition in the Voters’ Pamphlet, written by Jennifer Munson, chief financial officer of Three Rivers Hospital.
“One of the oldest hospitals in the state has served us well but can no longer meet today’s complex health care needs. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a difference in our health care future,” Munson wrote in the statement for the proposition.
Critical access hospital
Three Rivers Hospital is a “critical access hospital,” which is a federal designation for hospitals that provide affordable and accessible health care in rural, often underserved areas that are at least 35 miles from other hospitals. As part of the requirements as a critical access hospital, Three Rivers provides 24/7 emergency care.
No argument against the proposition was submitted for the Voters’ Pamphlet. However, the proposition prompted a recent letter to the editor of the Methow Valley News that recommended a “no” vote on the levy, and suggested instead creating “a county-wide plan to determine what the county needs and where we need to improve access to care for all Okanogan County residents.”
The letter from David Clement and Peter Morgan of Twisp said the “current configuration of three critical access hospitals, all approximately 30 minutes apart (four counting Chelan) is based on a 1950s model of care and needs to be revisited.”
Patients who were hospitalized 60 years ago are now treated as outpatients, and seriously ill patients who need specialized care are often stabilized at the critical access hospitals and then transferred elsewhere, Clement and Morgan wrote.
“Rather than continue a model with multiple hospitals competing for limited dollars and patients, let’s work to create an improved model of care for all of Okanogan County,” they wrote.
Three Rivers Hospital hired consultants last year to evaluate the hospital, which includes buildings that were built in the 1940s and 1950s.
Hospital officials said the hospital has retrofitted its facilities over the years to support medical and health care advances and new technology. Based on consultants’ recommendations, hospital officials determined that continuing to renovate the old buildings is no longer feasible, and would be more expensive over the long term than constructing a new hospital.
If the bond is approved, the current hospital building at 507 Hospital Way, on the north end of Brewster, would be torn down and replaced with a new building. Construction would be done in two phases to reduce disruption in patient care during the project, hospital officials said.
Construction would begin in 2025 with demolition of the oldest part of the hospital, built in 1949.
Three Rivers Hospital is a public, nonprofit hospital that serves the largest geographic hospital district in Washington — an area of 2,500 square miles that includes portions of Okanogan and Douglas counties.
The district has a population of about 16,000 people, including residents of the Methow Valley and the communities of Bridgeport, Mansfield, Brewster and Pateros.
As a public hospital, Three Rivers is supported in part through property taxes paid by residents of the district. In 2016, voters approved a levy lid lift that increased the maximum annual amount that the district could levy from 63 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation to 75 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation. The current annual tax levy is about 54 cents per $1,000.
For the past three years, voters have also approved a separate levy, voted on annually, of 33 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation to support 24/7 staffing of the hospital’s emergency room. Both the regular levy and annual levy for emergency room staffing would continue if voters approve the construction bond.
About 10% of the hospital’s revenue currently comes from taxes, with most hospital operating expenses reimbursed through insurance or direct payments, hospital officials said.