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Hospital fight could emd i[ backfiring

Providence, Legacy are opposing proposal by Kaiser Permanente to Hillsboro facility

Portland-area hospital operators opposed to Kaiser Permanente's proposal to build a new 138-bed hospital in Hillsboro ought to be careful. They may instead prompt what they want least: Increased regulation of their ability to grow.

Providence Health System Oregon and Legacy Health System want the state to consider whether Kaiser provides sufficient care for indigent or uninsured patients before allowing the new hospital. Legacy operates Legacy Meridian Park Hospital in Tualatin - the closest hospital to Lake Oswego.

As nonprofit hospitals, Providence and Legacy do provide significant charity care. Kaiser Permanente, which is part of a closed system that largely serves those covered by its own insurance, probably serves fewer needy patients.

What is troubling about Legacy and Providence's objections is that both continue to expand rapidly throughout the Portland region. Providence recently opened a new hospital in Newberg. A few years ago, Providence unsuccessfully sought to build a new facility in Hillsboro. Meanwhile, Legacy and Providence continue to add on to existing hospitals.

So why should Kaiser not be allowed to expand? Politics? Competing economics? A desire to protect market share?

Whatever the reasons, both hospital organizations need to be careful in their opposition or risk alienating the public, which primarily wants access to quality medical care at a fair price.

Legacy and Providence also should not provide more impetus for the Metro regional government to get involved in hospital-expansion approvals. This push is largely coming from union groups that support greater regulation of hospitals and also favor a larger union presence among hospital employee groups.

We still want Metro to remain far away from health-care matters and focus its attention on growth management, solid-waste management, transportation planning, open-space protection and operating the convention center and zoo.

But we favor the state of Oregon better defining how it approves new hospitals and also expanding its oversight to include major hospital additions.

Meanwhile, the many hospital operators throughout the Portland region need to initiate partnerships that best serve the quality and affordability of health care for individuals and the community.