By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Olympic Medical Center, Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend and Forks Community Hospital have sent a request for information to potential partners that would expand health care options for Peninsula residents, OMC Chief Executive Officer Eric Lewis said last week.
Local hospitals would refer patients to the affiliate for specialized care, and the partner hospital would refer them back for follow-up, he said.
Lewis described the affiliation as a contractual relationship in which the three hospitals would remain separate entities and patient choice would remain in place.
"We want to develop an option where physicians and patients, if they want to, can go to this tertiary partner for services we don't provide locally that would deliver superior health care," Lewis told OMC's seven-member governing board Wednesday.
Jefferson Healthcare Commissioner Jill Buhler said an affiliation could make health care seamless and more efficient on the Peninsula.
"We have not polled the entire board yet, but we certainly want to look at it," Buhler said.
"We like the idea of it."
Jefferson Healthcare officials will review the responses to the request for information before making any formal endorsement, Buhler said.
"We need to look at collaborations as we go along because that's what patients are going to want," Buhler said.
Camille Scott, CEO of Forks Community Hospital, said she supports the effort to find a tertiary partner. She said it could strengthen the health care system on the Peninsula.
"I definitely agree with what the concept is," Scott said.
"I think with health care reform, we're going to be looking at a lot of these type of alignments.
"I'm hoping we get some good people responding."
Preparing for change
An affiliation could help the local hospitals stay financially viable, plan for the future and complete the transition to electronic medical records, Lewis said.
"We want to be in position for change that's coming," Lewis said.
Lewis said potential affiliates from the Seattle, Tacoma and Bremerton areas have been asked to respond to the request for information by Oct. 15.
Their responses will go to the three hospital boards for review.
Lewis said it will probably take six months to determine if the three Peninsula hospitals can select one partner.
"I think it would be very important that we go down this path and try to make it work," Lewis said.
"There's no guarantees what will happen, but I think it's worth exploring. It could make a big difference for Olympic Medical Center and our local health care community."
For the past three years, OMC has been working more and more with Jefferson Healthcare and Forks Community Hospital, Lewis said.
The idea is to grow that partnership into a collaboration.
"We're considering calling it North Olympic Peninsula Health Care Collaboration, and that's where the three hospitals work together on delivering services and planning for the future," Lewis said.
"The goals of this collaborative are really to provide more services locally to our communities, help us become more efficient and help us meet the access needs of our communities for the uninsured and insured, and really improve quality and service that we deliver to our patients."
Lewis said the three hospitals have already accomplished several things.
• Recruiting two Swedish Medical Center neurologists to Sequim.
• Arranging for an orthopedic surgeon from OMC to work in Forks once a month.
• Developing a work force development program at Peninsula College.
"We've had joint board meetings, and even this summer we had a joint summer intern from a health care master's program at the University of Washington," Lewis said.
"We've worked a lot together, but I think in the future we're really looking at working even closer together," he added.
"We're looking at potentially working together on electronic medical records and finding a tertiary medical center affiliation."
Eight years ago, OMC's cancer center in Sequim formed a contractual relationship with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
That relationship has helped in research, protocols, planning, recruitment and providing local services, Lewis said.
"That's the model that we would like to use for more of our services -- perhaps cardiology and endocrinology -- and use that model to expand local services, create higher quality, more efficiencies locally, but also have a clear optional path for patients into a tertiary affiliation and back," Lewis said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at email@example.com.