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Kotek urges PeaceHealth to delay Eugene emergency department closure for 9 months

In a meeting with executives, Kotek offered collaboration and a new look at some rates in return for more time; spokesperson says system will “continue discussions” on ED closure date
PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center University District in Eugene, Ore. | COURTESY OF PEACEHEALTH
September 22, 2023
This story has been updated with comment from PeaceHealth. 

Gov. Tina Kotek is urging PeaceHealth to delay its planned closure of Eugene’s only hospital and emergency department, calling the health system’s proposed timeline “woefully insufficient,” The Lund Report has learned.

Kotek documented the request in a letter Thursday addressed to Alicia Beymer, CEO of PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center University District and Cottage Grove, and Richard DeCarlo, the health system’s chief operating officer. 

PeaceHealth sparked community concerns and opposition when it announced plans in August to close the emergency department at the University District hospital in Eugene by November, citing increased costs and decreasing use. 

In her letter, Kotek urged the executives to keep the University District emergency department open for at least nine months after it gives formal public notice of the closure on Oct. 1. In the letter, Kotek said she was documenting requests she made during a meeting with the executives the day before, Sept. 20.

“As I shared, PeaceHealth’s proposed transition period will not allow for the thorough coordination and communication that PeaceHealth’s decision requires and that impacted communities demand,” Kotek wrote in the letter. 

Hospital system officials have said they plan to shift emergency services to its RiverBend hospital in Springfield. But community leaders are concerned by the prospect of Oregon’s third-largest city and home to the University of Oregon being left without an emergency department.

According to the letter, Kotek and the executives discussed “the importance of community awareness, care coordination, non-emergent medical and public transportation needs, student notice, anticipating seasonal admissions changes, the need for 24-hour facilities, and other day-to-day scenarios that will be negatively impacted” by the closure. Kotek wrote that the issues need an “intentional and collaborative planning and a commitment to ensuring access to care.”

The governor said in her letter that the executives shared her “deep concern about our current behavioral health crisis.” She pressed PeaceHealth to commit to maintaining its inpatient behavioral psychiatric beds at the hospital. 

“The community requires greater certainty and, given PeaceHealth’s shared intent,” wrote Kotek. “I believe this certainty can be provided.”

A PeaceHealth spokesperson responded to The Lund Report’s request for comment with a brief email thanking Kotek for her involvement in conversations over the closure.

“We are grateful to be able to continue offering inpatient behavioral health services in the current location at University District and transition the inpatient rehabilitation unit to RiverBend in early 2024,” reads the statement. “We will continue discussions on the timing of the University District emergency department closure.”

As part of its plans to close the emergency department, PeaceHealth plans to temporarily relocate its 27-bed inpatient rehabilitation unit from the University District to its RiverBend hospital. The hospital system has also indicated it intends to keep its inpatient behavioral health unit, which serves 1,100 patients a year, open at its University District hospital until it finds an alternative.     

Kotek wrote that she will direct her administration to review the Medicaid-funded Oregon Health Plan’s reimbursement rates for inpatient psychiatric services while issuing temporary rules to speed up approval of more behavioral health units and rehab beds at PealthHealth’s RiverBend campus. 

She also wrote that she would work collaboratively with PeaceHealth on its requests for regulatory approval to close the emergency department. 

“It is my hope that the state’s partnership, capacity, and flexibility will encourage PeaceHealth to maintain service capacity beyond current plans, and at minimum, that PeaceHealth will provide an alternative that addresses the concerns I have raised before providing formal notice of (the hospital’s) emergency department closure,” Kotek concluded.

You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.