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Retired physician: PeaceHealth ‘losing its way’

Palliative care exemplified original mission of health care provider

By David A. Lynch, M.D., Guest Writer

In 1978, when I first joined the medical staff of St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, I was attracted by the professed ethics and mission of the hospital, along with the great legacy of service of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. 

During my 36 years on the medical staff at St. Joe’s, I was inspired by leaders such as Sister Catherine McInnes and Sister Brigid Collins to participate in the mission by serving in medical staff leadership and on the ethics committee, while providing patient care.

Since my retirement from active practice, I have become concerned that our local hospital has been losing its way. Under the direction and leadership of the regional system now known as PeaceHealth, our hospital has declared itself to be a medical center, but at the same time, we are actually seeing the loss of many valuable and important services, such as Adult Day Health, the Parish Nurse Program, stroke rehabilitation, general in-patient rehab services, allergy and immunology and now, the loss of a robust, full-fledged palliative care program. 

This latest loss seems particularly poignant to me because I can think of no service that is more closely aligned with the hospitals proclaimed “healing mission of Jesus Christ” than the social support and relief of pain and suffering provided by the palliative care team, which focuses directly on the whole person and the easing of their burden. Since our hospital no longer has a local board or CEO, these decisions apparently have been made by PeaceHealth officials located out of our area, and I am not aware of any reporting or discussion within our community about the overall financial health of the hospital that could possibly justify these actions. 

As these services have been lost, we continue to see multiple PeaceHealth advertisements. These must be expensive and, in addition, untold amounts of money have been spent to redesign the dove logo! The situation seems tone-deaf, sad, outrageous and simply unacceptable. 

As all of this has occurred, the local PeaceHealth Foundation has employed professional fundraisers to raise millions of dollars. I have always believed that the most important reason to make charitable gifts to our local community hospital is to help cover and support programs that are not adequately paid for by usual medical revenue. Since that does not seem to be the way things work at PeaceHealth. I have written to them directly about my concerns.

The PeaceHealth Mission Statement still proclaims that, “We carry on the healing mission of Jesus Christ by promoting personal and community health, relieving pain and suffering, and treating each person in a loving and caring way.” We need to help them live up to it.

Dr. Lynch is a longtime Bellingham family physician, former chief of the medical staff at St. Joseph Hospital, former president of the Whatcom County Medical Society, and former vice president and medical director at Family Care Network.

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