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Posted on Apr 14, 2017

Column: QVMC’s way forward represents a sea-change

By Dave Burgess

About a month and a half ago, Quincy Valley Medical Center unveiled a new direction for its future. That plan is still under development, but the sketch of its parts made known in February presents real reasons for optimism.
The announcement brought to an end or set aside questions about QVMC’s direction, questions that have been swirling, particularly since the November 2016 election. The hospital’s board had presented a proposition for a levy that would have given QVMC some breathing room, but the votes in favor weren’t there.
The new direction, in sketch form, would bring in strengths of the Port of Quincy in issuing a bond and building a new facility, and it would have QVMC seek a regional partner, adding its strengths to the package.
Jerry Hawley, CEO of QVMC, said in February that the plan represents a sea-change for the medical center’s future. It is that big of a deal.
As with most complicated endeavors, there is a chance some unexpected thing brings this positive development to a screeching halt. But this is a can-do community – wouldn’t it be great for this to be solved.
Grant County commissioners know about the new direction, and they support it. Evidence of that was seen when they raised Grant County Public Hospital District No. 2’s debt cap – the amount the county may hold in warrants for QVMC – to $4.5 million.
County commissioners want to get the county out of the long-term warrant business, and their stance is that whatever precise form the plan for QVMC takes, they hope it succeeds and the district operates in the black, without the county’s help.
Washington state auditors have also had concerns about the hospital district for some time.
With some care, I read the Accountability Audit Report on the hospital district issued by the Office of the Washington State Auditor published Feb. 9, 2017. I thought it might contain some alarming new information about the district’s finances. It didn’t.
It is important work by the state auditor’s office, but the report says little that has not been widely known in Quincy Valley, not to readers of this newspaper.
The report covers two years, 2014 and 2015, so it is not a picture of conditions today necessarily.
The tone of the document is professional, cordial and supportive. It identifies financial shortfalls going back to 2011.
It recommends the hospital district “develop a written, comprehensive plan to address cash flow issues. The plan should address its financial condition including: patient services, future operating income and cash flow. … The Board should revise the plan as needed to resolve its cash-flow issues and repay the outstanding registered warrants.”
Blame is not assigned in the report.
Of note, it lists the interest expense on the warrant debt to the county:
• In 2013, $138,794;
• In 2014, $168,585;
• In 2015, $137,011.
Together, that’s a significant amount of money that could, of course, in better circumstances be put to better use.
The state report says the district in 2015 cut expenses by reducing staffing levels and consolidating functions, “however, its financial condition continues to decline.”
The district discontinued its surgical program in January 2015 and closed the long-term care facility in 2016.
The state’s report is a good introduction for someone unfamiliar with this story, and it is very readable.
What it doesn’t do is instruct the board how to run the medical center.
Solutions have to come from Quincy – and it looks like they will. If a sea-change is what it takes, then let’s see the change.

Dave Burgess is the editor of The Quincy Valley Post-Register and can be reached at 787-4511.

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