Our Voice: Kadlec, Providence deal could benefit Tri-Cities

The face of health care is changing, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Tri-Cities.

The first new hospital to be built in the community in six decades is about to open, and another hospital just aligned with a major player in regional health care.

Rumors swirled for months that Kadlec Health System would join forces with Providence Health & Services. The official announcement came last week.

"Kadlec is not being acquired by or sold to Providence; we are joining a successful organization that will enable us to continue a higher level of care to residents of this region," Kadlec said in a statement.

So just what does that mean?

At first blush, many would think that affiliating with a Catholic entity would affect the services Kadlec could offer.

But health care providers are savvy, and Providence already had a model in place to clear up any confusion regarding health care policies.

Kadlec is actually joining the Western HealthConnect arm of Providence, which is a nonreligious, secular division that also includes Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

Many will wonder if Kadlec can provide abortions. The answer is that Kadlec did not provide elective abortions before the affiliation, and it won't after.

So what kind of policy changes can we expect to see?

Not much, according to Kadlec's management team and board of directors -- both of which remain in place under the terms of the deal. "There will be no major changes to the services provided by Kadlec," according to information distributed by the hospital.

Except that service offered could expand. The goal, according to Providence and Kadlec leadership, is to make Kadlec a true regional medical center with patient referrals coming from across eastern Washington and Oregon and maybe -- just maybe -- from other hospitals in the Tri-Cities.

The question is why would someone in the Mid-Columbia be sent to Seattle or Spokane if the same kind and quality of services are offered here? Convenience and reduced stress would be two natural benefits to patients who could stay close to home for specialized care.

With the financial power of a system of 33 hospitals in five states -- the third largest not-for-profit health system in the United States -- Providence's backing gives Kadlec a chance to expand its health care portfolio even further.

Providence officials said 14 percent of patients in the Tri-Cities go elsewhere for care. That number is statistically high when compared with other markets -- and they would like to see it drop in half, if not more.

The way to do that is by offering more specialists and more options for care at the Richland campus. The sheer size of Providence should help that happen.

Health care providers -- like others in many industries -- evolve to stay competitive and viable. They have to find new paths forward. Kadlec has chosen to affiliate itself with another entity to ensure its long-term future. From what we know, that sounds like a prudent decision for health care in our community.