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UW’s Harborview contract to get new scrutiny from King County

The following is from the Washington Federation of State Employees, Council 28:

SEATTLE (July 9, 2014) — King County is reasserting its ownership duties over Harborview Medical Center — and that means the toughest look in more than 40 years at how the University of Washington has run the region’s prime trauma hospital. The UW’s contract to manage the 137-year-old hospital expires in less than a year and county government has signaled it’s time for a fresh look at that relationship.

The Metropolitan King County Council on Monday, July 7 voted 9-0 to adopt a set of principles governing the county’s negotiations with the UW or potential new operators over the contract to manage the landmark hospital on Seattle’s First Hill.

“It is a public hospital owned by King County and we don’t want to lose sight of that,” Council Chair Larry Phillips said before Monday’s unanimous vote.

The council’s unprecedented adoption of principles came in the wake of the UW’s recent controversial plan to close critical care clinics, and its treatment of custodians, call center operators and other employees that generated backlash from community groups and unions.

Employee groups, like the Washington Federation of State Employees and Service Employees International Union, had reached out to county government as Harborview’s owners for help. UW withdrew the clinic closure plan but patients, community groups and employees pleaded with the county to preserve the clinics from further UW attempts to close them.

“I feel it would be best suited for the people there for everything to stay there,” former longtime Harborview employee Cleeesther Thomas told the council Monday.

The council’s motion includes a proviso that the hospital’s operator “shall continue to operate a broad spectrum of primary care clinics on the property.”

Stakeholders like the Washington Federation of State Employees took the county’s ownership role so seriously they jump-started its dialogue with the council and executive by calling on consultant Chris Vance, a former county councilmember, to assist its 1,100 Harborview members in this outreach to the county.

Before Monday’s vote, Vance praised the council and executive for listening to line staff and their message that “Harborview could be a better place to work, even a better hospital for this region, with a better working relationship between the University of Washington and King County…. Everyone’s listening and trying to create a collaborative stakeholder process to develop a new and better contract (to manage Harborview).”

Federation members have met with council members for more than a year to support the county’s role as owner and insist on changes from the UW.

The council went further and drafted the set of principles that not only addressed fair treatment of employees but a range of governance, financial and environmental goals.

Councilmember Jane Hague, chair of the council’s Committee of the Whole that forwarded the motion to the full council, said the statement of principles sends a message “by re-evaluating and stating our principles that govern the contract and govern the way we would like to see a county hospital being administered.”

The council’s motion reasserts that Harborview is an independent community hospital “ensuring we serve the community that Harborview is designed to serve,” Councilmember Rod Dembowski said.

The UW’s current contract to run Harborview expires June 30, 2015. The UW has run Harborview since 1970 under a series of 15-year contracts with the county. The county founded Harborview in 1877 and has never relinquished control.

PREVIOUSLY at The Stand — Harborview clinics to remain open after community outcry (Feb. 27, 2014)

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