The Hatfields and McCoys of the hospital industry have yet another peace treaty in place.
After years of legal battles and a voter referendum against joint management of two district hospitals in Sedro Woolley and Mount Vernon, Wash., the two facilities might merge into a single, new hospital.
The board of trustees for Mount Vernon-based Affiliated Health Services agreed earlier this month to hire consultants to work up a study for replacing the hospitals, 40-year-old Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon and 28-year-old United General Hospital in Sedro Woolley. The towns are located about 10 miles apart and 60 miles north of Seattle.
"It turns out it was far less expensive to replace the two hospitals with one facility than refurbish them both," said Dan Garcia, M.D., Affiliated's chairman. He cited previous studies concluding Affiliated could save $100 million over 20 years by operating a single facility.
Garcia called the development an about-face. A long-running turf battle over how the hospitals were operated concluded only 18 months ago.
The hospitals and their districts formed Affiliated in 1991. Soon after, the company consolidated acute-care services at Skagit Valley Hospital and turned United Gen-eral into an outpatient diagnostic center, triggering a six-year war for power.
A Sedro-Woolley community group challenged Affiliated Health in court in 1991, objecting to the consolidation.
Sedro-Woolley's hospital district, No. 304, collects taxes to support United General. It had even issued a new levy to refurbish the emergency room there. District No. 1, which represents Mount Vernon and Skagit Valley, does not collect taxes.
The case was eventually thrown out by a state appeals court, but bitterness remained.
Last year the communities resolved their differences in a legal settlement creating a 50-50 partnership that continued to operate under the Affiliated name (Jan. 27, 1997, p. 26).
The past wrangling will be taken into consideration if a new hospital is built, Garcia said. Its site would be in "neutral territory," probably the town of Burlington, located exactly halfway between Sedro Woolley and Mount Vernon. And a new levy to pay for its construction would be shouldered by both districts.
"It would alleviate a lot of problems," Garcia said.