The last thing the local health-care system needs is more bureaucratic process.

The Metro regional government ought to recognize that fact and dismiss budding notions of becoming involved in health-care oversight for the Portland-metropolitan area.

Metro has its hands full with planning for the region's land use and transportation, and with managing services such as solid waste, the zoo and regional parks. Meanwhile Metro is in the middle of updating growth-management plans to accommodate 1 million more residents by 2025 and also has hopes to expand its acquisition and protection of regional open spaces.

It's hard to see how anyone would benefit if Metro is distracted from its core area of expertise. Health care is not just a complex subject - it is gargantuan even in comparison to the large tasks previously assigned to Metro.

Don't duplicate existing processes

Metro councilors will receive a staff report next month on health-care-related options. Activist groups and Local 49 of the Service Employees International Union are raising the possibility of Metro taking on a health-care role. One idea is for Metro to appoint a community board that would create a comprehensive health-care plan for the region and also be asked to review hospital facility plans.

The union and other groups prodding Metro into the health-care arena say they are particularly concerned that hospital systems are spending more on expansion and growing their market share than they are on persistent needs such as mental-health services, primary care and emergency care.

We have no qualms with the goal of promoting better basic health care for Portland-area residents. However, Metro would be a poor vehicle for advancing that objective. Metro councilors and employees have no specific experience in the field, and any panel of experts they appoint could end up duplicating processes presently in place.

The state already must issue a certificate of need before hospitals can expand facilities. Union members and other health-care advocates say they have tried to strengthen the state's process through legislation, but were blocked by hospital lobbyists. That's one reason they are suggesting a regional review as well as state oversight.

We understand frustration with Legislative inaction, but Salem is the main place - in Oregon, anyway - where significant health-care reform can be enacted. If the state's certification function is too lax, let's fix that with thoughtful legislation before creating new boards or commissions.

Pursue reform in Salem

At this point, Metro councilors simply are evaluating whether they have a role in health care at all. We think the answer is 'no.' We do believe that health care is an issue of regional concern and that Metro councilors can offer their own influence to suggest that state and federal governments improve their performance.

Many citizens are frustrated by the escalating costs of health care. They are concerned that hundreds of thousands of Oregonians are without health insurance. And many of us wonder about hospitals' priorities when they spend so much money on construction - even as basic care becomes more difficult to obtain.

Those issues are real, and they are immediate. But they should be addressed aggressively in Salem and Washington, D.C., not the Metro council chambers.

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