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It's time to choose

City residents must decide if they really want ACH to survive
 Posted: 2:00 AM November 01, 2012

Opponents of the now-dead merger of Ashland Community Hospital with Dignity Health are pleased that the California-based hospital chain pulled out of the deal. They shouldn't be.

From the beginning, some Ashland residents insisted on assurances that were unreasonable given the realities of the health care industry and Dignity's stated policies. Now they have succeeded in helping push Dignity away.

What happens next may be far less to their liking than what Dignity offered.

A hospital that lost $3.3 million last year, as ACH did, is not going to move back into the black without reducing labor costs, shrinking the services it provides or some combination of the two. But opponents demanded that Dignity guarantee no staffing reductions, layoffs or reductions in pay, hours or benefits for five years — effectively asking the corporation to let the hospital continue to lose money.

A chain the size of Dignity could have centralized business functions such as billing, purchasing and human resources, meaning the loss of some positions locally but cost savings to the hospital. That could have allowed ACH to continue operating as a full-service hospital for a longer period. That is much less likely now.

The remaining potential partners apparently are Seattle-based Providence Health & Services and the Rogue Valley's Asante Health System.

If Dignity's peripheral connection to some Catholic policies regarding abortion, contraception and physician-assisted suicide were deal-breakers for some Ashland residents, a merger with Providence will be a nonstarter. All Providence hospitals adhere to the church's religious directives, period.

That leaves Asante, which has no religious trappings. But ACH board members were concerned that Asante is not large enough to prevent a future takeover by a major hospital chain. Anyone who thinks Asante could turn around ACH's finances and keep itself from becoming a takeover target without consolidating at least some services with Rogue Regional Medical Center is living in a dream world.

Here are the cold, hard facts: Without a merger with a larger entity, ACH has less than a year of operating cash left. If the hospital can strike a merger deal, it can stay open — but stopping the bleeding will require some sacrifice.

Ashland residents must come to terms with the idea of a hospital that is less than it was but still functioning. If they can't do that, they could end up losing everything.

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