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Controversy Over Washington State's Role In Hospital Mergers

The state of Washington is just beginning the process of writing new rules to govern hospital mergers. But already there’s controversy over what role the state should play when religious health care providers propose to take over hospitals.

The pace of hospital mergers has picked up in recent years amid a climate of healthcare consolidation. Many of them involved Catholic-based providers. The ACLU of Washington and other organizations are concerned this trend could limit access to end-of-life and reproductive services.

The ACLU’s Shankar Narayan wants the Washington Department of Health to establish explicit standards of care and a system of oversight. “Because right now there’s no mechanism by which these mergers can be monitored to make sure that the promises that are made during the application process are actually complied with.”

The Washington Department of Health responds that it’s still early in the process and will consider all the input it receives. The Washington State Hospital Association says hospital mergers can often lead to a broader array of health services – especially in more rural communities. But the group cautions state regulators shouldn’t prescribe what those services should be.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."