The new reality in Walla Walla is that later this month, it will become a one-hospital town when Walla Walla General Hospital closes its doors after 118 years.
It’s clearly a sad situation. It means fewer health-care options for residents of the Walla Walla Valley. Jobs will be lost and lives turned upside down.
But the leaders and staff at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, the hospital that will remain, have clearly committed themselves to trying to make sound business decisions moving forward in a way that should help fill the void left by the closing of General Hospital and other services of Adventist Health.
St. Mary officials have reached out to doctors and staff members at the closing hospital and clinics in an effort to find ways to keep them in the community.
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It’s going to be a long and tricky process as St. Mary officials will juxtapose the needs of the community with the logistics of integrating perhaps 18 or so physicians into their operation. This would include Providence St. Mary clinics that house a variety of physicians.
The Walla Walla Clinic, too, will be weighing the situation.
St. Mary executives met with the U-B Editorial Board to discuss the transition. While they certainly acknowledged the closing of General Hospital will have some negative impacts in the community, they were genuinely optimistic many physicians and their current staffs could be integrated into the St. Mary system in ways that would be a benefit to patients.
The fact is that access to health care in rural communities such as ours is becoming more limited, in part due to the high local percentage of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements below market value.
St. Mary officials said the combination of increasing costs in technology and demand for services with the cuts to hospital reimbursements from government insurance programs — two factors, along with declining volume, attributed to the Walla Walla General’s closure — hit rural health care hard.
Susan Blackburn, St. Mary’s chief administrative officer, said she could only find one other community of our size with two fully operational hospitals.
“There’s a reality of health care in America,” said St. Mary Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christopher Hall. “It’s expensive, and it’s hard … It’s hard to be a smaller volume hospital anywhere in America and make ends meet.”
As the volume at St. Mary increases, that could prove to be a boon to the hospital’s long-term financial stability and the health-care options in the community.
Again, nobody is pleased with the closing of General Hospital and the services provided by Adventist Health, but St. Mary Medical Center is making an effort to make the best of the situation for the benefit of this entire Valley.