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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Groups say Empire broke commitment

A coalition of Spokane churches and nonprofit groups has accused Empire Health Services of backing away from an agreement to provide vital health screenings to low-income and other vulnerable people.

Organizers of the Spokane Alliance said Tuesday that officials from the hospital system that includes Deaconess Medical Center had broken a commitment to expand testing that could reach at least 500 people.

Wim Mauldin, the group’s lead organizer, said Empire officials agreed in January to provide an initial screening and a six-month follow-up project with three local churches, and to expand screenings to five more churches next year. After an initial screening that reached 200 to 300 people last spring, Empire balked at continuing, Mauldin said.

He said the move raises concerns about the future of Empire’s compassion as the nonprofit system is sold to the nation’s largest for-profit hospital system, Community Health System of Tennessee.

“If EHS is not going to do this, there’s no reason to expect that CHS will,” Mauldin said Tuesday.

But an Empire official said Tuesday that the screening agreement was approved by now-departed company officials without the knowledge – or budget approval – of the board.

“We’re not in a position to say we can go forward and continue these ad hoc screenings,” said board Chairman Ron McKay, noting that hospital officials have been busy finalizing the multimillion-dollar sales agreement.

Board members, who include several doctors, have agreed to try to find a way to continue the screenings if possible, McKay said. He said it was unfair of Spokane Alliance members to link the issue to the larger question of Community Health’s future engagement in the community.

“If there is a bona fide need in the community, CHS has properly represented themselves in the communities in which they operate,” McKay said.

The verbal agreement to provide cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and bone density testing to clients identified by local churches was approved by former Empire chief executive Jeff Nelson and spokeswoman Becky Swanson, McKay said in a letter to the Spokane Alliance.

A screening session held in the spring attracted 200 to 300 people from three area churches. Follow-up sessions and expanded testing for five more churches could have reached 350 more, Mauldin said.

About 100 members of the Spokane Alliance planned to march to the entrance of Deaconess Medical Center today to deliver postcards requesting screening services, he said.

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