Drastic cuts to healthcare is not a shared sacrifice and it is just plain wrong.

The first sentence of Tuality Healthcare's mission statement says a great deal about how we serve the citizens of western Washington County:

'To provide healthcare to the community with respect for human dignity and without regard for the recipient's ability to pay.'

Our not-for-profit organization with hospitals in Hillsboro and Forest Grove might have a hard time living up to that credo in the next two years if the current state budget proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber becomes law.

The state of Oregon has a general fund budget shortfall of $735 million. A good portion of that shortfall is being filled by cuts to the Oregon Health Plan and its enrollees - 84 percent to be exact, or around $690 million.

Going into this budget session in Salem, the plan was to fill the budget shortfall through 'shared sacrifice,' meaning all state agencies which receive general fund dollars would share in the cuts. So far, there is no evidence that any of the dozens of state agencies which receive general fund dollars have sought out or have accepted significant budget cuts, let alone 84 percent.

What does this mean for Tuality Healthcare? The members of my administration team winced when I asked this recently. Here is what it means to me.

We have a long history of doing good work at Tuality, dating to 1918 when Minnie Jones Coy turned a house in Hillsboro into a six-bedroom hospital. We are a community-based, not-for-profit organization that has shared the growth in our area with computer chip makers, manufacturing plants, nursery operations and wineries.

We operates on a very slim margin, less than 2 percent. Ask any for-profit business owner if they could operate on a 2-percent margin or less and most would tell you it's time to shutter the business. We take any extra revenue we have and reinvest it in vital equipment and services that make our area of western Washington County a better place to live and to raise a family.

Our campus features a number of partnerships that add high value to our community. Pacific University trains the future pharmacists, physician assistants, physical therapists and others that will provide healthcare services in the years ahead. Portland Community College hosts a wide variety of classes in facilities on our campus. And the Virginia Garcia Health Center provides basic health services to our burgeoning Latino population.

Tuality's Lactation Services provides basic breast feeding training to mothers and fathers throughout a newborn's first year. Our donations of money and services along with other healthcare providers helps the Essential Health Clinic provide free healthcare to the needy. The Tuality Health Education Center sponsors dozens of classes that deal with issues such as managing diabetes, losing weight and dealing with loss of a loved one. We provide the latest cancer treatments in partnership with OHSU at the Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center. We have many partners and sponsor many vital programs, including school-based health clinics for students who otherwise wouldn't have healthcare. We also have a number of experimental pilot programs that are looking at ways to deliver healthcare more efficiently and in a more cost-effective manner.

If the current budget becomes law, it will have a substantial impact on Tuality Healthcare's operations and ability to fund these vital partnership services. The latest data from the state shows the following potential cuts - possibly around 5 to 7 percent in fiscal year 2011-2012 and triple that in 2012-2013. The dollar figures are staggering, in the millions of dollars. The potential cuts far exceed Tuality Healthcare's bottom line.

This isn't just a Tuality Healthcare issue. All of the 58 community hospitals across Oregon are facing the same severe cuts, from the big-city hospitals in Portland to the small but vital hospital in Burns that serves the sprawling geography of Malheur and Harney counties.

We are hard at work lobbying our legislators to take another look at the 2011-2013 budget to see if other state departments can take cuts that will ease the burden on healthcare. Tuality has done an admirable job in continuing to provide high-quality healthcare during the recent economic downturn, the worst since the Great Depression.

We will survive this budget crisis as well, but we need your help. Please call your legislators and tell them that imposing drastic cuts to healthcare is not a shared sacrifice and it just plain wrong. Ask your friends and neighbors to do the same.

Together, we can make the state budget a 'shared sacrifice,' not a burden on the citizens of Oregon who need healthcare the most.

- Dick Stenson is the chief executive officer of Tuality Healthcare.

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