Community deserves resolution from hospitals

Who knew expanding a hospital was such a prickly business?

We've now got two hospitals fighting it out over the number of hospital beds to be allotted to our community. A legal challenge has been filed, with a motion to dismiss in response, then settlement offers and counteroffers.

The battle has -- at least temporarily -- stopped progress toward construction of the new Kennewick General Hospital at Southridge.

And it has brought out the ugly side of efforts to provide health care in our community, clouding that mission with half-truths, confusing and inconsistent data regarding occupancy rates, conflicting information and public sniping between Kadlec Regional Medical Center and Kennewick General Hospital officials.

Last week, the state Department of Health defended its position to allow KGH permission to move 74 beds to the proposed new facility at Southridge.

KGH currently is allotted 101 beds by the state. That would leave 26 beds at the old campus. But the wrinkle came when KGH filed a certificate of need application for another 25 beds at the Auburn campus, after Kadlec asked for another 114 beds.

Confused yet?

You can thank the state system that requires hospitals to justify the need for growth before additional beds can be added. Here's what it boils down to: Kadlec and KGH are vying for the same beds as they plan for the future.

Either request probably exceeds the limits the state will impose on the total number of hospital beds in the Tri-Cities. In other words, without a halt to hostilities, it looks like only one hospital can come out a winner.

The state approved the Southridge project in March 2010, and that decision is the target of Kadlec's complaint.

KGH's plans amount to adding a fourth hospital in the Tri-Cities, Kadlec leaders argue. With a limit on the number of beds, the move would block Kadlec's ability to meet its needs for growth, they complain.

The fate of the bed allotment issue now resides with the state, where both Kadlec's complaint and the Department of Health's rebuttal to it have been filed with its Adjucticative Services Unit.

Both hospitals certainly have the health of the community as their core mission, but it sure seems like there could have been a more collaborative approach to the future health care needs of the Tri-Cities, one that didn't involve lawyers and finger-pointing and the rest of the unpleasantness we've seen.

It certainly is not the editorial board's role to decide which side is right in the matter. But with such an important decision unfolding in such a dramatic way, we can't ignore it until a decision is issued by the state.

We've been disappointed by how the situation has been handled by both hospitals, and getting the whole story has been -- and still is -- a challenge. Many of the facts are as clear as mud, and what we think we know often is disputed by one party or the other.

We understand the need to strategize for the long-term survival of the two hospitals. Both have to chart paths to the future with differing circumstances, with one being a publicly funded facility and the other a private, nonprofit corporation.

Let's hope this mess is sorted out soon, and the attention of both sides gets back to the business at hand -- providing care for people who need their services.

Folks in our community deserve health care options and opportunities. And hospitals they can trust.