Providence St. Mary Medical Center and Walla Walla General Hospital announced Monday a merger of sorts.
This summer, most likely in early July, the two hospitals will become one entity, under a move being called a “transfer of membership,” officials from both facilities said at a news conference.
The letter of intent to do so was signed last week.
It’s not a sale, said Joyce Newmyer, president of Adventist Health Pacific Northwest Region and board chairwoman for WWGH.
Hospital networks have members, not stockholders, and this transaction will be a membership transfer, she explained. In a single day, WWGH will cease to be a member of Adventist Health and become a member of Providence Health & Services, a system of 34 hospitals, 600 clinics, 22 long-term care facilities and more in 14 locations.
Providence has agreed to put $14 million over 24 years into a restricted fund that will be used to continue promoting the Adventist Health mission of progressive health, wellness and prevention care. That money will stay in Walla Walla and be used at the discretion of Adventist Health officials, Newmyer said.
There will be no immediate staff changes and patient care will continue as it is now for the foreseeable future, officials said, adding that nothing can be set in stone until more definitive agreements have been reached about the functions of St. Mary and WWGH.
Maintaining a slow pace toward unification will allow a better understanding of what the public needs at what location, said Elaine Couture, chief executive officer for Providence Health & Services in Eastern Washington.
WWGH employees, about 440, including physicians, will become employees of St. Mary, which has 1,153 people on its Walla Walla campus.
While it is uncertain what staffing numbers will ultimately look like, Newmyer and Couture said key positions have been purposefully left open for this melding of hospitals, and a national trend of care providers aging out of work is creating positions everywhere, including Walla Walla.
As well, new services will be grown in Walla Walla, Newmyer and Couture predicted. Those will include positions in non-acute care, but officials also anticipate providing more inpatient behavioral health care.
WWGH is continuing forward with its geriatric psychiatric unit, which received funding two years ago. Construction is set to begin soon, Newmyer said.
Providence is committed to expanding behavioral health services in the communities it serves, Couture added.
Both hospitals accept Medicaid and Medicare and most major insurers.
St. Mary and WWGH have long histories of serving Walla Walla, and this is another historic moment in that timeline, Newmyer and Couture said.
“We want to always honor both heritages,” Couture noted.
“We do have great respect for each other’s mission. This is not about Adventist or Catholic, but about Jesus’ healing.”
“We serve the same God and follow the same purpose.”