Valley General levy passing
MONROE - Valley General Hospital’s first levy increase since the 1990s is heading toward approval with 59 percent of the vote in last week’s special election.
Voters in Hospital District No. 1 were passing the measure with 59 percent of the vote. In the latest vote count at press time, 12,102 were in favor of the measure while 8,339 were against it. The levy needs a simple majority to pass.
Levy campaign manager Brooke Brod said the healthy margin showcases the community’s resounding support.
“This is definitely a very healthy, exciting margin,” Brod said.
Valley General is the nearest emergency room for most east Snohomish County residents, and before news spread about the levy’s likely approval, those emergency services were in danger of being greatly reduced or eliminated altogether.
Valley General is the only hospital in the area that provides overnight care and access to inpatient services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, hospital spokeswoman Collette Reams said. Other clinics and medical centers in Monroe, such as Providence, provide excellent care and valuable specialty services, but emergency operations can only be performed at Valley General.
“There’s not a minute we’re closed,” Reams said.
The levy will increase hospital district residents’ property taxes from 14 cents to 37 cents per $1,000 assessed home value. The average homeowner in the hospital district will pay about $74 a year, up from $34.
The hospital will likely start collecting the new levy rate beginning in July 2014, Reams said.
Decreasing property values and cuts to state and federal funding pushed the hospital to propose the levy increase. The hospital also has thousands of dollars of bad debt from patients who couldn’t pay for their hospital bills.
Valley General began seeking a partnership with other hospital systems in 2011 to get the hospital back on stable financial footing.
After a couple false starts with two other companies, Valley General found a partnership in EvergreenHealth of Kirkland. Valley General became an affiliate of Evergreen last December. The new relationship means an increase in specialty services, expanded emergency services and new equipment, but it also means the hospital’s lowest levy rate in the state finally needed to be raised in order to help fund those improvements.
If the levy would have failed, Reams said the hospital would have cut emergency room and inpatient care services.
Valley General CEO Eric Jensen said in a public statement that he was extraordinarily grateful to voters for increasing the levy.
“We were faced with some very difficult choices had we not prevailed in this vote,” Jensen said. “Now, we have the opportunity to use this success to move forward and strengthen Valley General Hospital’s ability to serve our community.”
Brod said the community support for the levy increase was impressive.
“Our volunteers talked to thousands of voters and the support for the hospital was really wide and broad-based,” Brod said. “People should feel really proud that such an important resource and valuable institution had so much support.”
Ballots continued to come in for the rest of last week, but Brod said the unofficial results were so skewed that it would take an “astronomical” percent of remaining “no” votes to overturn the result.
“We can’t be firm about the results, but we can be very positive,” Brod said.
The results will be certified and official within three weeks of the ballot return date of April 23.
Mark Glover is a registered nurse in the medical and surgical unit at Valley General. He loves his job because of the small hospital environment where he and his co-workers can make a difference in the community.
“There are a lot of people who have lost their jobs or can’t pay, and this hospital takes care of those people when other hospitals can’t or won’t,” Glover said. “They’re not different to us, we treat them the same.”
Glover said when he walked into work the day after the unofficial results came in, he saw big smiles on the faces of his co-workers.
“Last night we heard it was passing and we were thrilled to pieces,” Glover said. “We’ve been doing the best we can for a long time.”
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