November 13, 2009 in City

Community Health objects to suit

INHS board never OK’d filing, company says
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The company that owns Deaconess Medical Center contends that a lawsuit filed against it last month by Spokane-based Inland Northwest Health Services should be tossed out by a judge.

The lawsuit centers on the disputed ownership of a license used to maintain INHS’ electronic medical records network.

Deaconess owner Community Health Systems Inc. said INHS never received permission from its board of directors to file the lawsuit.

And it should know, because Community Health is one of the two controlling members of the INHS board, along with Providence Health Care, parent of Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital.

INHS was created in the 1990s as a collaboration of the city’s two main hospital systems, Providence and Empire Health Services, which owned Deaconess and Valley Hospital and Medical Center until selling the two hospitals last year to Community Health.

The partnership was designed to share in the cost and ownership of expensive, duplicative services such as air ambulance Northwest MedStar, St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Hospital, and electronic medical records.

The INHS suit was spurred when Community Health began charging $150,000 a month for use of the electronic medical records license.

Community Health also sent letters to many rural hospitals that depend on the INHS electronic medical records network advising them they would no longer have access to the network.

In its response to the INHS lawsuit, Community Health shot back that INHS had no right to file the suit, which alleged contract breaches, bad-faith dealings, unjust enrichment, tortuous interference and possible threats to patient safety at the rural hospitals.

Community Health doesn’t address the specifics of the INHS complaint in its response, instead repeatedly contending that INHS had no right to file suit.

An INHS spokeswoman said that the court records were being reviewed and that the organization would respond at a later date.

The lawsuit is one of the conflicts erupting among the city’s biggest health care providers.

Community Health, one of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains, has made a series of business moves designed to stabilize Deaconess’ operations and reassert the hospital as a tough competitor to Sacred Heart for Spokane patients. Among them was its objection to Sacred Heart’s major expansion plans, which were denied by state regulators this year.

But perhaps Community Health’s most significant move has been its proposal to buy the Rockwood Clinic and link it with Deaconess into an integrated health care system.

The deal upset Sacred Heart officials. Rockwood, the region’s largest clinic, is an important referral source for hospitals, and Sacred Heart fears patients will be directed to Deaconess.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email