"We found out almost no one knows what's going on," said Clark Jones, chief executive of Cascade Valley Hospital.
Cascade Valley has joined with two other public hospitals in Mount Vernon and Anacortes in seeking a business partner to help consolidate costs and provide additional health care services.
To help spread the word on what they're considering, the hospitals plan to mail information that outlines what's being considered to people living in north Snohomish County and in Skagit County, Jones said.
Another public meeting also will be held in early August on the issue so people can learn more, although the date and place have not been set, Jones said.
Four organizations said they were interested in some type of business partnerships with the three public hospitals: Seattle-based Virginia Mason, Catholic-affiliated Peace Health, Seattle's UW Medicine, and Providence/Swedish, a collaboration between nonprofit Catholic and secular health care organizations in Western Washington that joined together in 2012.
A decision on which organization will be selected could be made as soon as the end of August.
Interest by the two Catholic health care organizations has ignited protests from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and a community group, People for HealthCare Freedom.
In June, the ACLU sent letters to the three hospitals, signed by 11 other community groups, citing concerns over the effects of public, tax-funded hospitals joining with a Catholic health care organization.
The letter said the church's religious directives can conflict with patient choices on birth control, in vitro fertilization and end-of-life issues, such as assisted suicide.
Serious state constitutional concerns can arise when public, tax-funded hospitals affiliate with religious health care corporations, the letter stated.
The Arlington, Anacortes and Mount Vernon hospitals contracted with Gogerty Marriott, a Seattle public relations firm, to select and meet earlier this month in focus groups with residents in Arlington and Skagit counties. They wanted to find out what they know about the hospitals' business proposals.
In Arlington, about 10 people were first asked what they thought about their local hospital's future plans. Even though a decision on which organization the three hospitals should join with could be made next month, "the community is apparently not aware," Jones said.
No one objected to the concept of Cascade Valley partnering with a larger health care organization, he said. The four organizations being considered "were judged to be very high quality partners and could give benefits to the community."
When asked if they concerns about an affiliation with a Catholic health care organization, "the basic response was no," Jones said.
But when they were shown some of the material from the ACLU and People for HealthCare Freedom, "there was a segment of that group that became seriously concerned," he said. "Not a majority, but a significant segment."
Representatives of the three public hospitals are making site visits to the health care organizations that have submitted proposals for business partnerships.
The mailing that outlines what's being considered and the upcoming public meeting will allow more opportunities for the public to participate before any decisions are made, said Clark Todd, president of the board of commissioners for Skagit Regional Health in Mount Vernon.
"We definitely want to be listening to the community," he said. "That's extremely important to us, especially as elected officials."
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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