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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Hospitals May Merge Services Task Force To Study Proposal For System Involving Sacred Heart, Holy Family And Three Others

The competitive line that once separated Spokane-area hospitals could blur even more.

Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital, already jointly operated by the Sisters of Providence, are taking steps to share more services.

The two boards approved a “letter of intent” in January to move toward a single health-care system including Sacred Heart and the four hospitals in the Dominican Network.

The network includes Holy Family Hospital, Deer Park Health Center and Hospital, Mount Carmel Hospital in Colville, Wash., and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chewelah, Wash.

A joint task force, which will probably be named in March, will have until the end of the year to form a plan. Either the Sacred Heart board or the Dominican Network board could veto the task force plan.

“This represents an opportunity that’s just fantastic,” said Ron Schurra, president of Holy Family Hospital and the Dominican Network.

Officials stressed that any plans are preliminary. They worried about negative implications of the word “merger” and stressed that the hospitals were working to form an “alliance.” They tried to squelch any fears.

“We’re trying to preserve the character and customs of Holy Family,” said Skip Davis, chief executive officer of Sacred Heart. “The fear is we’re bigger, and we’ll be like PacMan coming to gobble them up.”

Both Davis and Schurra said they hoped that layoffs could be avoided. Most likely, some people would have to shift jobs to fit with any department changes.

It isn’t clear how the hospitals will shake out - only that administrators want to preserve the identity and strengths of each hospital. They also hope to streamline some administrative and support services and have more buying power as a larger system.

In theory, a system of five hospitals would be more efficient, saving patients money. Services would be coordinated, not duplicated.

But nothing is certain - not even any alliance.

“The plan is to develop a plan,” said Rich Umbdenstock, president and chief executive officer of Providence Services, the corporate arm of the Sisters of Providence.

Spokane hospitals in general have turned “collaboration” into the health-care buzzword for the ‘90s.

Sacred Heart and Deaconess Medical Center have combined their rehabilitation units and air ambulance service. They take turns handling the region’s trauma cases.

All the area hospitals are working on a doctor-hospital network and combining patient records into a single computer system.

Sacred Heart and Holy Family have been moving closer for years.

In 1993, the Dominican Sisters turned its Dominican Network over to the Sisters of Providence and its management corporation.

“We’ve done a lot of things together,” Schurra said. “We certainly have the same parents.”

, DataTimes

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