Adventist Health has announced intentions to transfer control of Walla Walla General Hospital (WWGH) and related services to Walla Walla Providence in Walla Walla, Wash., this summer. As part of the transfer agreement, Adventist Health will continue an active presence in the area with plans to administer a special fund for new and innovative services within the Walla Walla Valley.
Adventist Health leaders met this morning with the WWGH board, physicians and staff before publicly announcing the planned changes. It is indisputably a dramatic shift in the local Adventist institutional health care presence, which has impacted the valley for more than 100 years.
According to the full statement, jointly released by Adventist Health and Providence Health & Services, the transfer is not a sale. Adventist Health will transfer membership control of WWGH, including Adventist Health Medical Group in Walla Walla and Home Care Services in Walla Walla, to Providence. In turn, Providence will assume operation of the campus and disburse $14 million over 24 years into a specially created fund with the Providence St. Mary Foundation that will be used to further the health care needs of the Walla Walla community. The fund, which will be directed by Adventist Health, will provide an ongoing ministry and mission avenue in the valley.
“Adventist Health’s commitment to the mission throughout Walla Walla remains strong,” says Joyce Newmyer, who serves as president of Adventist Health Pacific Northwest Region and also WWGH board chair. “What will change is the way in which we will implement this moving forward. Instead of a hospital-based bricks and mortar model, Adventist Health will have resources available to fund innovative initiatives that build on our Adventist Health legacy of wellness and prevention. It will be a fresh expression of our mission that provides a way for us to live out our commitment to serve the people of this community. And while the details of how this will look are still in the formative stage, the possibilities for innovation are quite promising for the community.”
The roots of WWGH harken back more than a century to 1898, when sanitarium-style treatments were hosted in the basement of the fledgling Walla Walla College. The Walla Walla Sanitarium was frequently relocated, finally moving off the college campus in 1931. It became known as the Walla Walla General Hospital in 1945. WWGH held the grand opening for its present location on Second Avenue in 1977. A significant expansion of the facility was completed in 2013.
While Adventist Health’s traditional presence in the Walla Walla Valley will soon change, the mission of the organization will be carried forward in new, innovative initiatives that build on a legacy of wellness and the whole person ministry of Jesus. Transfer plans between Adventist Health and Providence are expected to provide seamless care for current patients. Providence’s intent is to employ a significant number of current Adventist Health staff.
“We remain grateful for a community who has entrusted us with their care, employees who excel at delivering compassionate quality services, physicians who are laser focused on what is best for their patients, and volunteers who passionately share their time and resources,” says Newmyer. “This is a time for fresh thinking about what the future of health care could look like in Walla Walla.”
It is also a time for prayer, for the dedicated WWGH staff and their families during and after this transition, and for the ongoing mission of Adventist Health throughout the Walla Walla Valley.
Q: What’s happening?
A: Leaders from Adventist Health and Providence Health & Services have announced their intention to transfer control of Walla Walla General Hospital, Adventist Health Medical Group in Walla Walla and Adventist Health Home Care Services in Walla Walla to Providence this summer. The timing will depend on the pace of the transaction. It could occur as soon as July 1, 2017. Work then would begin to integrate services at the two campuses under Providence. Leaders anticipate the work will take many months.
Q: Is this a sale?
A: No. It is technically termed a “membership substitution”. This is a fairly common transaction between nonprofit health care systems. Essentially, it means that Adventist Health will transfer control of Walla Walla General Hospital, Adventist Health Medical Group in Walla Walla, and Adventist Health Home Care Services in Walla Walla to Providence. Providence will assume operations, and contribute $14 million over 24 years into a specially created Adventist Health Legacy Fund within the Providence St. Mary Foundation. The fund will be used to further the health care needs of the Walla Walla community as determined by Adventist Health. The fund becomes the avenue that Adventist Health will use to maintain a continued presence in the Walla Walla Valley, and to further its mission of advancing health and wellness.
Q: What action should Adventist Health patients take for continuation of their health care?
A: Current Adventist Health patients do not need to take any action. The goal for patients is to make the transition as seamless as possible. Doctors and other providers currently employed by Adventist Health in Walla Walla will continue to see patients during the transition.
Q: Why did Adventist Health choose Providence?
A: It is important to both organizations to be good stewards of health care resources. After great reflection and of corporate sponsorship/membership substitution offered the greatest stewardship of the community’s health care resources. The result will be a stronger health care delivery system for Walla Walla. Providence was a natural partner because of proximity and mission. Adventist Health and Providence are both faith-based ministries. Both have a long history of charitable care and working to improve the overall health of the community through outreach and education. Although they come from different faith traditions, they both work to carry forward the healing ministry of Jesus by providing physical, mental and spiritual healing, and to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities have access to care.
Q: How will the mission of Adventist Health be preserved?
A: Adventist Health’s commitment to the mission in Walla Walla remains strong. What will change is the way in which it will implement its mission moving forward. Instead of a hospital-based, brick-and-mortar model, Adventist Health will have resources through the Adventist Health Legacy Fund to drive innovative initiatives that build on its legacy of wellness and prevention. While the details of how this will look are still in the formative stage, the possibilities for innovation are promising.
Q: Both of these hospitals are over 100 years old. Why is this happening now?
A: The decision to pursue this option comes on the heels of a changing industry that is calling hospitals everywhere to look at how to best allocate healthcare resources for the communities they serve. A new approach is needed.
Q: Does the transaction require regulatory approval?
A: Regulatory approval is not required for a membership substitution.
Q: How will this benefit the community?
A: The benefits of having one health care system include:
It creates a coordinated health care system in the Walla Walla Valley under Providence, allowing services to be expanded and made more efficient.
It will improve stewardship of resources, and allow further resources to be reinvested in broadening the breadth, depth and reach of services offered in the community.
Patients will benefit from a seamless continuum of care in this region.
Patients visiting each campus in the future will have one hospital electronic medical record for greater continuity of care, improving communication between health care providers and eliminating the need for repeated tests.
None of the buildings will be shuttered. Both campuses will be put to their best use to deliver health care to the community.
Growth is expected in a number of services.
Q: Adventist Health also has a partnership with Wheatland Village, the retirement facility behind Walla Walla General Hospital. Is Wheatland Village becoming part of Providence?
A: Wheatland Village is not included in the proposed transaction.
Q: Adventist Health operates the Walla Walla University Health Center. What is the plan for the Health Center?
A: Adventist Health currently operates the Health Center at the invitation of Walla Walla University. If it is the desire of Walla Walla University for Providence to operate the clinic, Providence is open to doing so.
Q: Will Adventist-Health-employed providers have the opportunity to join Providence?
A: The needs and demand for health care in this community don’t change as a result of this transaction. It is Providence’s goal to keep doctors, advance practitioners and other caregivers in the community.
Q. Will Adventist Health staff have the opportunity to join Providence?
A: Health care professionals will be needed on both campuses. The number of people in the community who need care isn’t changing in the immediate future. While there may be some reductions, Providence’s intent is to employ a significant number of Adventist Health staff. There are hundreds of positions on the Walla Walla General campus alone that must be maintained.
Q: How many people currently are employed on both campuses?A: Providence employs 1,153 people in Walla Walla. Adventist Health employs 439.
Q: What will be the process for Adventist Health employees to join Providence?
A: After we’ve signed the definitive agreement with respect to the proposed transaction, Adventist Health employees will receive more detailed information on Providence roles, benefits and the steps to take for the transition to Providence employment. Teams of Human Resources staff will be working with you to make it as smooth of a transition as possible. We know that this change may cause anxiety, and you may be tempted to contact Providence directly. Please be patient, and wait until you are notified that the transaction has closed. We legally cannot discuss employee transitions until then. Until the proposed transaction closes, Providence and Adventist Health are required by law to remain as and behave as competitors.
Q. As an Adventist employee, what should I do between now and the closing of the transaction?
A: Continue to provide great care for your patients, as you always have.
Q: Can employees and providers of Adventist Health and Providence reach out to each other to discuss aspects of the transition or future plans?
A: No. We cannot discuss what our future may look like. Until the transition is completed, our employees and providers cannot contact each other aside from what has been normal communication in the past for patients’ medical needs such as patient transfers, except to the extent authorized in advance by legal counsel.
Q: When will we know more?
A: The timeline is somewhat fluid, so we cannot provide exact dates. However, both organizations are committed to providing updates every step along the way to keep the community, providers and employees informed.