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Snoqualmie Hospital officials, board challenger trade views on accountability, hires, new project

Gene Pollard, who is running for Snoqualmie Valley Hospital District commissioner against appointee Karyn Denton, makes no bones about the fact that he’s opposed to the new district hospital now being built on Snoqualmie Ridge.

“The clear answer is NO!” Pollard responded to an e-mail question on the project. He points to a 2007 voter rejection, by 69 percent, of a district property tax measure, as evidence of his neighbors’ lack of desire for the planned $30 million facility.

However, the current hospital administration is firmly behind the project. In a rebuttal to Pollard’s arguments, Rodger McCollum, Hospital Administrator, and Jay Rodne, the hospital’s general counsel, argue that the 2007 levy was not a rejection of the plan.

McCollum told the Record that the levy vote would have been used to finance a number of capital improvements.

“There have been many failed levies in the Snoqualmie Valley,” McCollum said in an e-mail. “People want less taxation but certainly not less services.”

In a response, Pollard said that McCollum gives too little credit to Valley voters.

In an e-mail, he wrote that the vote “was pre-recession, when taxes were not as topical as now. Voters just didn’t want a new hospital, period!”

McCollum says the district has been in the black for the last three years. He told the Valley Record that the bond debt issued by the hospital was used to make capital improvements for the future of the district.

“We are required by the formation of the district and the original vote to create a municipal corporation to provide for the health and welfare of the district’s citizens,” he said in an e-mail.

In his statements to the Record, Pollard also takes the district to task for what he perceives as a lack of accountability and a reliance on back-room decisions.

In response, McCollum said the hospital district is accountable to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, the state Department of Health, and to the state auditor. Independent audits, he said, go to the public and bondholders.

“We are transparent in every way,” McCollum said. “We have been reviewed and audited in every way by every agency, and there have been no reportable events. In fact, we receive many comments of exemplary practice, quality awards.”

Audits are only as good as the data received, Pollard countered. He questions the effect of national health reform, cutbacks in Medicare, Medicaid, and competition from the new Swedish Hospital in Issaquah on the hospital’s future.

Pollard also questions the hiring of former hospital commissioner Fritz Ribary as Manager of Marketing and Communications, and of State Rep. Jay Rodne as in-house attorney.

“It is unethical and gives the appearance... of a conflict of interest,” he stated.

But McCollum defends the district’s hiring of Ribary as the manager of communications, and of Rodne as general counsel.

“Any healthcare system is obligated to communicate with the public we serve in terms of information of operations and healthcare education,” McCollum said. “Any public agency or business, for that matter, requires legal counsel.  It is much more cost-effective to have our in-house counsel as opposed to hiring and paying outside counsel.”

Rodne told the Record that, before he joined the district, he underwent a House of Representatives ethics screen to rule out any potential conflicts of interest.

“I was cleared of any conflicts in this process and was given the green light to accept an employment offer from the district,” he said. “Many legislators are employed in the public sector.  In fact, some are employed by state agencies, such as UW or the state patrol, and this is all deemed permissible because Washington has a part-time, citizen legislature.”

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