Testimony taken to heart

TUMWATER – More than 50 people testified at a public hearing Friday to help determine whether Capital Medical Center should be allowed to offer an elective heart procedure that Providence St. Peter Hospital already performs.

Friday’s three-hour meeting drew about 100 people and took place in a near-capacity conference room in the Tumwater offices of the state Department of Health, the agency charged with ruling on the dispute between Thurston County’s two largest hospitals. A decision is expected to be announced Oct. 1, said Janis Sigman, a program manager for the DOH’s certificate-of-need program.

Capital Medical Center filed a certificate-of-need application to the DOH this year to offer elective angioplasty procedures to its patients, something the west side hospital has done for years only on an emergency basis. A recent change to DOH rules, however, allows hospitals such as Capital Medical that don’t have a heart surgery department to offer the elective procedure. Capital currently sends patients who request the elective procedure to St. Peter’s or another hospital. St. Peter opposes Capital Medical Center’s proposal.

At the meeting, about 29 people testified in support of Capital Medical Center’s application, and about 23 argued in support of St. Peter’s stance.

Those who spoke were a mix of current and former staff members from both hospitals, former patients, a local business owner, a real estate agent and a former school superintendent. Many also read letters in support of both hospitals from doctors and former patients who could not attend the meeting.

Capital Medical supporters argued that approving the application would give patients more options and improve access to health care, and that increased competition would improve health care quality. Providence supporters largely countered that allowing Capital to perform the procedure would reduce St. Peter’s revenue for charity care. Officials at both hospitals said the elective procedure generates $1.5 million to $2 million annually.

In addition to public testimony, DOH’s Sigman and analyst Peter Agabi collected an estimated 200 letters during the meeting. Public comment on Capital Medical Center’s application closed at 5 p.m. Friday, but written rebuttal to public testimony will be accepted until 5 p.m. Aug. 17, Sigman said.

Among the comments shared at Friday’s meeting:

Capital Medical Center Chief Executive Michael Motte:

“The residents of this very large growing region want and deserve choice.

“I’ve heard over and over that a rising tide lifts all boats, and hospitals throughout the region will do better when Capital is able to offer elective (angioplasties). We believe this to be the truth.

Providence St. Peter Hospital Chief Executive Jim Leonard:

“We oppose Capital Medical Center’s application for a number of reasons, but let me be clear, this is not about one hospital against another.

“We oppose it because it would not materially improve access and, in fact, would make access more difficult because it would preclude services to residents to the south and west of Thurston County.

“We oppose it because it would reduce the quality of care. We oppose it because it would be a costly duplication of services and, as such, a waste of health care dollars, especially because it wouldn’t improve access or quality.

“I urge you to deny the Capital Medical Center’s application.” Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403