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Posted on Jan 29, 2015

Commissioners urge leaders to find local solution to hospital woes

Grant County commissioners invited the Quincy Valley Medical Center and the Gorge Amphitheatre to the table on Monday to begin working toward a local solution that would ease the impact of the Gorge’s summer concert season on the rural hospital.

The sides were at odds last week when the county sent a letter to legislators, opposing a bill before the Legislature that would allow counties to impose a $1 surcharge on outdoor amphitheaters to pay for emergency medical care.

The hospital has said that in 2013 concert-goers created $400,000 in uncompensated care and additional expenses. In 2014, that number was closer to $230,000, according to the hospital.

The hospital at this time is $2.8 million in debt to the county, which holds the registered warrants on the hospital.

The bill, commonly called the Rural Amphitheater EMS bill, is supported by the hospital, Grant County Fire District No. 3, the City of Quincy and the Port of Quincy. It is not supported by the county or Live Nation, owner of the Gorge Amphitheatre.

Sponsored by Rep. Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg) in the House as HB1009 and Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee) in the Senate as SB5000, the bill would impose a $1 surcharge on admission tickets to concerts and festivals held at outdoor amphitheaters in rural communities. At this time, only the Gorge Amphitheatre qualifies for the legislation.

The Rural Amphitheater EMS bill would allocate 65 percent of the proceeds generated to the local hospital district and the remainder to a fire protection district.

Both bills this week were alive in their respective committees. HB1009 was scheduled to be heard in executive session in the House Committee on Local Government this week. Only one committee needs to pass its respective bill for it to continue on in the legislative process.

From the meeting on Monday, representatives from the Gorge, county and local agencies supporting the bill agreed to form a committee that will address some of these issues, said Cindy Carter, Grant County commissioner.

“We will try to work on it at the local level,” Carter said.

Meanwhile, bill supporters should continue to pursue the surcharge at the state level, despite the commissioners lack of support, Carter said.

Carter said she felt good about the meeting on Monday. “By all means we did not solve every problem, but we are making steps,” she said.

However, the meeting got mixed reactions from the hospital and Gorge.

“I think we had a good, long, open and frank discussion,” agreed Danny Wilde, the Gorge’s general manager.

Wilde argued the Gorge is the only side that’s offered “tangible” solutions. Wilde was referring to the Gorge extending its ambulance services, providing more hydration stations and building a medical aid post, which has not yet been completed.

The efforts brought a drop in the number of concert-goers taken to the hospital this year, from 334 in 2013 to 180 last year, he said.

“We’re going to continue to look at the real issues we can have a tangible effect on,” Wilde said.

The Gorge might consider having a physician from the hospital on site during concerts, something suggested at Monday’s meeting, Wilde said.

Wilde questioned why a bill must be drafted to address the concert-goers, who are 5 percent of the hospital’s emergency room patients. However, the Gorge will continue to look at making “tangible” solutions, he said.

Mehdi Merred, hospital CEO, argued that nothing concrete came from the meeting. While commissioners want this problem solved locally, they haven’t given the hospital a local solution yet, Merred said.

“I’m not sure we accomplished much,” he said.

Although Merred didn’t get a solution from Monday’s meeting, he said some headway was made. The two sides left with an agreement to listen to and communicate with each other better, as well as work toward a solution, he said.

“We’re committed to visit and communicate,” Merred said. “I don’t know what that’s going to lead to.”

And, for the first time in more than a year, the county is listening to the hospital, he said. “I think we got their attention,” Merred said.

The bill still remains the only practical solution at this time, said Merred, who argued that the decline in patient numbers from the Gorge this past year is not an indication of any trends.

“We don’t have an alternative yet,” he said.

There is an urgency for this new committee to meet, added Randy Zolman, chairman of the hospital board. After all, the hospital’s warrants must be under $3 million by June 1, as required by the county, Zolman said.

Carter agreed that the new committee needs to address the debt problem soon. But how, still is not answered.

“That’s the $3 million question,” she said.


— By Jill FitzSimmons,

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