EUGENE, Ore. - The board of a Catholic-sponsored nonprofit health system headquartered in Washington state has tentatively voted to set up a central office in Vancouver, Wash., that could move several hundred jobs out of Oregon.
The Register-Guard cites sources familiar with the situation who said the bulk of the workers moved could come from Lane County, where more than 4,800 PeaceHealth workers are employed.
PeaceHealth operates seven hospitals with 11,700 people in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.
PeaceHealth spokesman Brien Lautman said the transition of workers to Washington state could begin in 2012, but was hesitant to give a definite date.
"The bottom line at this point for us is we will continue to be a major employer in every community we serve," Lautman said, "and we will continue to have shared services positions in every region that we serve."
Lautman could not confirm whether the bulk of workers would come from Lane County.
For the move to become definite, a feasibility study on the center must be completed, and Southwest Washington Health System, the nonprofit health system that operates VancouverÃâšÂ's largest hospital, must complete a merger with the PeaceHealth system.
In Lane County, where unemployment is 10.7 percent, losing hundreds of jobs would be a blow to the local economy. State labor economist Brian Rooney of the Oregon Employment Department said PeaceHealth provides high-paying jobs in the area.
"The way the economy is now, we don't want to lose high-paying positions out of the area," Rooney said. "PeaceHealth needs to do what's in its best interest, but those high-paying jobs are even more important now that the economy isn't doing real well."
The Vancouver, Wash., center would be responsible for back-office duties like information technology and accounting.
Lautman said PeaceHealth would offer full support in terms of retention and relocation. For employees who can't or choose not to move, PeaceHealth will offer and retraining for other jobs in the company.
Jack Roberts, executive director of local economic development agency Lane Metro Partnership and a member of the PeaceHealth Oregon Region board, said the regional board would prefer the jobs stay in Lane County, but said the PeaceHealth system board had to do what makes economic sense.
"We all wanted to keep the jobs here, but we also understand," he said. "We cant argue that we have to be more efficient but then say 'Don't take away our jobs.' "