State Senators Roach and Keiser join to ask state supreme court to review UW-Valley alliance

The following is from a press release:

Sen. Pam Roach (R- rural Auburn) and Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) have asked the Washington State Supreme Court to hear an appeal brought by the commissioners of King County Hospital District #1 (Valley Medical in Renton) against UW Medicine.

"This is one of the most important cases brought to the Supreme Court and the Court's decision will determine if elected officials can delegate their statutory duties to an unelected board without any future review by future elected officials," Roach said.

The commissioners are challenging the highly controversial contract by which UW Medicine now controls the operations of all Valley Medical finances and operations, leaving the public no real influence over this public hospital district they support via property taxes.

In June 2011, only a few months after the concept was proposed, the commissioners for King County Hospital District No. 1 voted 3-2 to enter into a 45-year alliance with UW Medicine. The alliance changed the governance of the hospital from a five member elected commission to a thirteen member board of trustees comprised of five elected commissioners and eight unelected trustees appointed by UW Medicine.

After Dr. Paul Joos, a Renton eye surgeon, was elected to the commission in November 2011, the commissioners received a legal opinion that the governance section of alliance agreement was illegal. The commissioners tried to enter into negotiations with UW Medicine, but UW Medicine refused.

Because UW Medicine refused to negotiate, the commissioners voted 3-2 to file a lawsuit in September 2012 against UW Medicine. Dr. Joos joined commissioners Anthony Hemstad and Dr. Aaron Heide – the two commissioners who had originally opposed the alliance – to proceed with the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed in October 2012.

The lawsuit (12-2-34486-8SEA) was first heard by King County Superior Court Judge Michael Hayden in late December 2012. In his decision, Judge Hayden ruled in favor of UW Medicine but said in his opinion this was a more appropriate decision to be made by a higher court.

"The Alliance agreement between UW Medicine and the hospital district completely usurps the voters because even if the voters defeated all five 'elected' commissioners at the polls because they were unhappy at the direction the hospital was taking their votes would be meaningless because UW Medicine controls eight of the thirteen votes on the new Board of Trustees, and because the head of UW Medicine can remove any of the eight appointed trustees without cause," Roach said.

"While an alliance with the UW Medical system by Valley Medical hospital may have many positive clinical outcomes, I am alarmed that Valley Medical's budget will no longer be determined by the elected board of commissioners," Keiser commented. "By law, public hospital districts have taxing authority, but they also have a fiduciary responsibility to develop and adopt appropriate budgets. This alliance appears to break that arrangement and I hope the State Supreme Court will recognize that conflict. The Court's decision may well influence the current hospital merger climate, as many other public hospital districts in our state may be considering other affiliations with private hospital systems. Taxpayers in the King County Public Hospital District No. 1, many of them in my legislative district, pay $18 million a year in property taxes to support Valley Medical, and they deserve real representation."

In January 2013 the commissioners voted 3-2 to appeal Judge Hayden's decision to the Washington State Supreme Court. Former justice Phil Talmadge is representing the commissioners. Instead of using the Washington State Attorney General's office for representation as normally would be done, UW Medicine has hired expensive outside counsel.

Joos, the president of the commissioners, was pleased to see bipartisan support for the court to hear the case.

"In today's polarized political atmosphere there are very few times when Democrats and Republicans can agree on anything and when they do agree it clearly must be in the best interest of the people," Joos said.

"Senator Roach is Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee and Senator Keiser is the Ranking Member and former Chair of the Health Care Committee," Hemstad, the commission's vice president added. "Their uniting on this issue show how important it is to both governance and health care. As other public hospital districts across the state are considering various possible affiliations or mergers it is important for the Supreme Court to rule on what is truly allowable and if local governments can abdicate their governing authority to an unelected or appointed board."

"The court's decision in this case goes well beyond the relationship between King County Hospital District #1 and UW Medicine," said Roach. "If the court refuses to hear this case or rules in favor of UW Medicine, voters in other hospital district other special purpose districts such as water, fire, sewer and schools across the state could see power shifted from elected officials to unelected boards."

The commissioners filed their appeal to the Supreme Court on March 25, 2013. As of today, the court has not determined if it will hear this case.

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