Representatives from Ashland Community Hospital underlined their reasons for choosing to pursue a merger with Dignity Health during Tuesday's Ashland City Council meeting.
Community members were not allowed to speak in regards to the issue during the meeting, but council members asked several questions surrounding the proposed merger.
Chairman of the ACH board Doug Gentry, former chairman Dr. Doug Diehl, ACH Chief of Medical Staff Dr. Miriam Soriano and board Vice Chairwoman Anne Golden presented to the City Council.
Council member Dennis Slattery asked whether promises made in a recently released "affiliation transaction summary," were covered in a binding contract.
Some of the commitments outlined in the summary document include maintaining ACH's currently level of services for at least five years, making a series of capital improvements over that same span, and employing "substantially all of the employees currently employed by ACH."
Though most of the specifics could not be discussed because of binding confidentiality agreements surrounding negotiations, ACH representatives said the statements made in the summary document will be included in a contract between ACH, the City of Ashland, and Dignity Health.
"I can't say that we're are going to have zero job losses, but it's not their (Dignity's) intent or our intent to reduce the workforce ... That's not where the saving is going to come from," Gentry said.
Council member Carol Voisin said "loss of local control" is one of her primary concerns if ACH becomes a member of Dignity Health.
City Administrator Dave Kanner, who is negotiating a lease arrangement with Dignity Health, made note of a mechanism that would allow the City of Ashland to nominate board members to the ACH board if it merges with Dignity Health.
Kanner also said Dignity Health has agreed to accept the term of the current lease the city maintains with ACH, which extends for a another 14 years.
"We're not going to be the sole shareholder in the hospital corporation anymore, but it's not like we're totally out of the picture," Kanner said. "They (Dignity Health) can't transfer the lease without our permission."
Council member Greg Lemhouse asked how long ACH could survive without a merger.
"If our rate of loss continues, and we believe that it will, we probably have four to six months of operating cash," Diehl said. "If we started cutting services, we could stretch it out some."
About 60 people attended the meeting.
Some community members say a merger with Dignity Health is necessary to ensure that a hospital keeps operating in Ashland. Others have raised concerns that Dignity Health, a chain of hospitals with past ties to the Catholic Church, could restrict women's reproductive services and the rights of terminal patients to get lethal prescriptions to end their lives, which is permitted by Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.
Dignity Health's Statement of Common Values says that physician-assisted suicide is not part of Dignity Health's mission.
According to a fact sheet prepared for the council, physicians who are employees of Dignity Health may not prescribe medications to end life.
However, they may refer patients to physicians who offer that option. Also, independent physicians with privileges at the hospital may prescribe end-of-life medications, so long as Dignity Health is not paying them while they are doing so.
Dignity Health spokesperson Tricia Griffin said it is "very unlikely" Dignity Health will budge from its stance against Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.
If the merger is approved, ACH's current board of directors would likely remain unchanged pending the approval of Dignity Health's primary board, Gentry said. After that, the local board would nominate its own members, who would have to be approved by Dignity Health's primary board.
A public hearing on the ACH merger is scheduled for the Nov. 6 council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, 1175 E. Main St.
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.