Valley Medical Center and UW Medicine strategic alliance called into question

A legal puzzle has arisen between the Valley Medical Center Board of Commissioners and University of Washington Medicine.

The issue involves the strategic alliance agreement between Valley, which is formally known as Public Hospital District No. 1, and UW Medicine.

The board members approved a resolution on a split vote authorizing board President Dr. Paul Joos and Vice President Anthony Hemstad to negotiate with UW Medicine “to revise the parties’ strategic alliance agreement in order to bring the agreement into conformity with applicable law and public policy.”

Voting for the resolution were Joos, Hemstad and Dr. Aaron Heide. Dissenting were commissioners Carolyn Parnell and Sue Bowman.

According to a release from the board, Phil Talmadge from the Tukwila law firm Talmadge-Fitzpatrick and a former state Supreme Court justice and state senator, conducted a review of the agreement and determined it “illegally transfers responsibility from the District’s elected Board of Commissioners to an unelected Board of Trustees who are not accountable to the voters of the Hospital District.”

Talmadge was retained by the board in February to review the contract.

Joos stated at the February meeting the members voted to retain Talmadge, “Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see any review (of the alliance) from the state attorney general or any independent counsel. I think this is a minor expenditure to get us an opinion on what happened last year.”

According to the release Talmadge concluded the agreement takes away the board’s “legal authority to manage and operated the Hospital District. In so doing, it disenfranchises the voters who created the District, who support the District through their tax dollars and who chose the Commissioners they want to operate the district.”

Hemstad said during a phone interview Tuesday, “I think the process (strategic alliance agreement) was rushed. If it would have been a more deliberative process these legal issues would never have arisen. It was unduly rushed.”

The alliance agreement was brought before the board in January of 2011. According to Hemstad the board saw the agreement “for the first time in May.” It was voted on in June and took effect in July.

Hemstad said the next step is to begin negotiations with UW Medicine.

“Hopefully UW will negotiate.”

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