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Officials, business leaders urge hospital buyout

OLYMPIA – After a trip to Tennessee to meet the proposed buyers of Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center, several Spokane officials and business leaders Wednesday moved on to Olympia, urging state officials to approve the deal.

Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, a private company, has proposed a buyout of Empire Health Services, including the two hospitals. CHS, one of the nation’s largest hospital chains, has proposed paying $70 million to pay off the facilities’ debt and another $100 million to set up a health foundation and investing another $100 million in the hospitals.

As part of the sale of Spokane’s century-old health care provider, the deal must be reviewed by outside experts and the state attorney general’s office and Department of Health.

The Spokane delegation is trying to ensure that the deal is not “derailed by delay,” as Greater Spokane Inc. CEO Rich Hadley put it. Washington has one of the most thorough review processes in the nation, he told the House health care committee Wednesday. He also said he’s confident that the state will approve the deal.

The group includes Betsy Cowles, Brian Pitcher, John Driscoll, Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke, Theresa Sanders and Judy Cole. Cowles is the chairwoman of the Cowles Co., of which The Spokesman-Review is a subsidiary.

The group was slated to meet with several local lawmakers and state officials, including Secretary of Health Mary Selecky, whose office will have final say on the deal.

Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Olympia, said lawmakers have no direct say in the state’s approval of the deal, but they can – and should – weigh in with state agencies dealing with local issues like the sale.

“We are not in a position to dictate to the Department of Health,” he said. “But anybody at any time can make their feelings known.”

If the deal is successful, the two hospitals would be folded into a company already running 127 hospitals in 28 states.

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