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Monroe hospital asking for levy bump in April to bring back birth services

MONROE — EvergreenHealth Monroe, the lone full-service hospital between Snohomish and the Sky Valley, is proposing a levy lid lift in April’s special election to fund additional services such as child delivery, 24/7 surgery and an online database for medical records. New MRI and CT scanning machines also would be paid for with the levy.
Voters this April in Snohomish County Hospital District 1* will decide whether to raise the hospital’s tax rate from $0.27 per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value to $0.47. For example, if a home’s value is estimated at $400,000, a taxpayer would pay $188, an $80 increase.
“If we want to bring babies back and we want to bring the ER to a higher level and we want to do it sooner, I’m going to need the community’s help,” said Renee Jensen, the hospital’s chief administrative officer, during a Feb. 25 Monroe City Council meeting. The hospital plans to address the Snohomish City Council at its March 19 meeting.
Obstetrics, or child delivery services, haven’t been offered at the hospital since 2011, but babies are occasionally born in the emergency room. At its peak, EvergreenHealth Monroe delivered about 450 babies per year.
By bringing obstetrics back, the hospital estimates 350 babies could be delivered annually within five years. Jensen said the estimate was conservative.
The hospital still has five suites in its delivery ward.
They haven’t been touched since 2011. Even so, it would cost $2 million to update the wing, with an additional $3 million* annually for physicians, midwives, nurses and operations.
“Babies are expensive,” Jensen said.
With emergency care, EvergreenHealth Monroe has a level four trauma center, meaning it staffs general and orthopedic surgeons five days per week. If the levy passes, it’ll provide 24/7 surgeon care.
The online database would cost $6 million up front and $1 million annually.
Transferring records to an online database would expedite transferring patient files between hospitals, provide online scheduling and give people easier access to their medical files.
The levy lid lift isn’t the only method EvergreenHealth is using for funding. Jensen said she’s working to earn a rural hospital designation from the state, which would provide more money for the hospital’s Medicare and Medicaid services.
In 2013*, voters approved a lid lift of 14 cents to bring the rate to 27 cents per $1,000. That levy was meant to maintain services already provided.
Jensen said if the levy passes, the health district would still be in the bottom 10 to 20 percentile for tax rates in the state.
“I’m really impressed with how far this hospital has stretched the tax dollars,” Jensen said.
She said 80 percent of inpatients are on Medicare or Medicaid, one of the largest portions statewide.
Jensen is a Monroe High graduate. Before returning to Monroe, Jensen worked at Summit Pacific Medical Center in Elma. During her tenure it became the most profitable small hospital in the country, she said.
In Monroe, the City Council is drafting a resolution in support of the levy lift with a vote expected for late March.
The last day to register to vote or change address is March 25. First-time voters have until April 15 to register. Ballots will be mailed April 4 and are due April 23.
To register to vote, find registration forms at the post office or learn more at www.snohomishcountywa.gov/elections

 

* - CORRECTIONS
This story has been altered from the print edition to correct that the district's formal name is Snohomish County Hospital District 1, adds omitted information that the levy would also pay for new MRI and CT scanning machines, corrects information that the cost for additional birthing staff would be $3 million instead of $5 million, and corrects the year of the last levy and its resulting levy amount. It also eliminates a sentence about partnering with Providence that may be misconstrued out of context. The Tribune regrets the errors.

  

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