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Washington's New Rules On Hospital Partnerships Challenged

Flickr Photo/Ralf (CC BY-NC-SA)
New rules on hospital mergers put undue burden on hospitals, according to the Wash. State Hospital Association.

The Washington State Hospital Association has filed suit in Thurston County Superior Court over the state's new permitting process for hospitals.When a hospital wants to expand services to a different location, it requires permission from the state Department of Health. The idea is to avoid duplications and to make sure there’s enough demand for services.

Recently the Department of Health changed those rules. Now, hospitals that are planning to form partnerships must also go through the same review process. That requirement went into effect last month.

Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, spokesperson for the Hospital Association, said the association is challenging the new rules because they hamper hospitals’ ability to stay financially viable. This is big concern, she said, for hospitals in rural areas. 

“For many hospitals, if they can’t find a bigger partner for additional resources, they have trouble maintaining existing services or expanding services into either new geographic areas, or as the population changes, to be meeting those goals,” Clunies-Ross said.

The association is asking the court to invalidate that permitting requirement. It argues that the new rules go beyond the scope of the Health Department’s authority; only the Legislature can do that.

Governor Jay Inslee originally asked for the changes because of recent affiliations between secular hospitals and Catholic health organizations. The governor’s office responded to news of the lawsuit, saying the new requirements help ensure these partnerships don’t create access to care problems.

Year started with KUOW: 1994