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AC Editorial: Hospital soap opera continues

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If the saga to find a new operator for Petaluma Valley Hospital was a television show, it would be a soap opera.

The epic search, now in its third year, has all the hallmarks of the soap opera genre: dramatic plot twists, evil villains, even a parade of new characters.

The latest character to be introduced to the audience could be considered the long-lost cousin of one of the main characters. Here’s the backstory.

Providence St. Joseph, a Catholic healthcare provider that operates Petaluma’s publicly-owned hospital, has proposed its secular branch to take over operations at PVH. Western HealthConnect was formed in 2012 to operate the company’s non-Catholic hospitals in Washington.

The company would likely need to form a California subsidiary of Western HealthConnect to run Petaluma Valley, but it appears this is the latest workaround to the conflict of secular and religious healthcare priorities. Some further background.

St. Joseph has operated Petaluma Valley since 1997 on a 20-year lease that expired in 2017. In the run-up to the lease expiring, the Petaluma Health Care District, which owns the hospital, negotiated with St. Joseph to renew the lease. St. Joseph, meanwhile, combined with Providence in 2016 and informed the health care district that it would no longer offer some female reproductive services, including tubal ligations, a form of sterilization.

That turned out to be a major sticking point as a public hospital should not take medical directives from the Vatican.

The health care district and St. Joseph broke off negotiations and the district went looking for suitors. But instead of Prince Charming, it found a handful of scrubs, and not the kind nurses wear.

Southern California-based Paladin Healthcare was the best of the lot, but they were unable to invest in a pricey electronic medical record system and broke off the courtship.

So, the ball went back to Providence St. Joseph, which by this time was seeking to form a new company with Adventist Health to run the two companies’ Northern California hospitals.

The Adventist deal would have kept all current services at Petaluma Valley Hospital, but the villainous Attorney General Xavier Becerra denied the merger (probably with an evil laugh while curling a handlebar mustache.)

Forlorn, the health care district was right back where it started as St. Joseph began a third year as interim operator since its lease expired. Enter the mysterious cousin from two states over.

Western HealthConnect seems to have been an innovative solution to marry secular and Catholic healthcare entities in Washington state. It was first formed in 2012 when Providence acquired Swedish Health Services, a large Seattle-based healthcare company, and was later expanded when Pacific Medical Centers, also in the Seattle area, joined Western HealthConnect two years later.

While there are many unanswered questions with this latest proposal (What are Western HealthConnect’s secular hospitals like? How difficult would it be to expand the operation to California?) it is certainly worth studying.

The health care district is currently doing its due diligence, and it hired a consultant to look into it. The hospital needs a longterm operator that can provide some stability, negotiate new contracts with employees and make capital investments in the aging facility.

Will Western HealthConnect be the one to sweep Petaluma Valley off its feet? Find out next time on “As the Hospital Turns” (because “General Hospital” was already taken).

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