If Kaiser Permanente’s acquisition of Group Health Cooperative is approved by voting members and regulators, Thurston County and the region can expect to see more medical buildings, refurbished medical facilities and new technology for patients.
That is according to Donna Lynne, an executive vice president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals. Lynne was among four officials, including Group Health President and Chief Executive Scott Armstrong, who recently met The Olympian’s editorial board.
The acquisition could take up to a year to be approved, but Lynne touched on medical enhancements that could come to the area and she drew on her experience to illustrate the potential changes.
Lynne, based in Colorado for California-based Kaiser, said that during her 11 years, Kaiser has nearly doubled the number of its medical offices from 17 to 32.
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“We’re likely to see refurbishments and very likely to see additional medical buildings inside the area and outside of it,” she said.
Olympia is home to a Group Health medical center on Lilly Road that employs 500 people. Group Health is based in Seattle. Kaiser and Group Health are nonprofit health care organizations.
Lynne said new technology could come to the area that would allow patients to reach medical professionals through “video visits.” She touched on a hot topic for the country and South Sound: improving access to behavioral health care.
Lynne said improving access to behavioral health is a critical step, although she didn’t offer specifics. Kaiser has no plans to build a hospital in the area, she said.
Behavioral health care is a hot topic because of patient demand. Since 2011, Providence St. Peter Hospital has experienced a 20 percent increase in the number of patients seeking mental health and substance abuse treatment in its emergency room, Sue Beall, director of Behavioral Health Services for Providence in southwest Washington, told The Olympian in January.
A company called US HealthVest has indicated it wants to open a 75-bed psychiatric hospital in Thurston County at an estimated cost of $20 million, according to information submitted to the state Department of Health.
Kaiser, if its acquisition goes through, has pledged to invest $1 billion in capital, make a $1.8 billion contribution to a new Group Health Community Foundation and spend $800 million in the next 10 years on community investments.
But will Group Health’s members support the acquisition? The early indication is that they will, after a recent advisory vote of the membership.
About 1,600 members, not all of whom were voting members, recently gathered on a Saturday to take part in the vote, with 1,094 voting for it, while 179 voted against it and 51 abstained. The advisory vote will be shared in a voters guide to be distributed to all eligible voting members. Results of that vote will be known March 12.
If approved, the deal will be reviewed by regulators. If they vote against it, Group Health Cooperative will continue as is, spokesman Jackson Holtz said.
“We’re hopeful that our members will vote to support the acquisition,” he said.