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Hospital looks at options in wake of levy defeat

Only 46.5 percent in favor

It was a tough night for Skyline Hospital. When the results of the April 26 special election came in, voters were soundly rejecting Skyline's request for approval of an increased property tax levy.

The hospital's bid for a levy lid lift -- which would have boosted district property taxes by another seven cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation -- went down with about 54 percent of the voters casting ballots in opposition.

As of April 28, when the Klickitat County Auditor's Office issued the most recent update, the vote count stood at 1,368 in support (46.5 percent) and 1,571 in opposition (53.5 percent). There are still some ballots yet to come in and be counted, but there is no chance those outstanding ballots could alter the overall outcome.

The levy, which would have brought the property tax levy up to a total of 35 cents per $1,000 of valuation for 2012-2013, was intended to allow the hospital to expand its surgery suites and set up the federally-mandated electronic health records system.

The new universal health records system would allow medical records to follow patients to whichever doctor or medical provider they choose. According to health professionals, this would allow doctors and patients to benefit from enhanced consistency and efficiency, and eliminate the need for patients to have to duplicate tests for each medical professional they see.

Skyline Administrator Mike Madden said he wasn't surprised at the results of the election.

"We figured it would be close either way, but we were hoping it would be close the other way," Madden said. "Compared to the school levy in Goldendale, we did really well. We knew the economy wasn't going to be our friend."

In the wake of the levy's rejection, where does the hospital go from here?

"Due to the needs of the future of the hospital, we're probably going to have to be back before the voters," Madden said. "We need to do a little better job of getting the word out beyond Bingen and White Salmon, and need to do a better job of selling the benefits of this to the rest of the district."

Madden explained that the electronic health records system would benefit all patients by making important records available to any medical professional who may be treating the respective patient in the future.

"If we could get the lid lift, it would basically cover the costs of the health records system and free up patient dollars to pay for the expansion to allow for more sophisticated surgeries, especially orthopedic surgeries," Madden added. "Right now patients have to go elsewhere for surgery because we don't have the appropriate facilities."

Madden said it was likely the hospital district would come back with another levy request, probably within a year.

"The board has to make that decision," he said. "We have an aversion to putting a levy on the ballot with other things. If there are a lot of levies out there, it's confusing for people trying to decide what's the best use of their tax dollars."

Skyline's Board of Commissioners had scheduled a public meeting for Thursday, May 5, to consider a resolution to place a new levy lid lift proposition before the voters in August 2011. The meeting was set for 9 a.m. at the Skyline Hospital conference room.

Although Madden said a couple of the hospital's board members "didn't sleep much Tuesday night after hearing the results," he remained optimistic the levy would eventually be approved.

"It's still only about a 150-vote swing and the results go the other way. That's not an insurmountable obstacle; I think we can do that," he explained. "We need to get more people involved and motivated about the future of the hospital. If we can get this piece in place, for the next 20 years we would not have to do much of anything except accommodate growth."

Madden was philosophical about the April 26 election's outcome.

"This is not a devastating blow, just a wake-up call," he explained. "There are still some in our district who aren't convinced we're a vital part of their lives."

Madden added that he appreciated the relatively healthy turnout, which the Auditor's Office pegged at nearly 50 percent of eligible voters.

"I want to thank all the voters," he said. "It was a pretty good turnout."


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