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Harrison may be close to concluding its merger search

Harrison Medical Center has been an independent system for nearly a century, and the CEO says it could remain so, but Harrison is close to completing a partnership agreement with a larger health care system.

Speaking at the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon on Sept. 18, president and CEO Scott Bosch addressed the “potential for Harrison to deviate from its 94-year history of being an independent organization.”

Harrison’s 16-member board of directors and an advisory committee have spent most of this year in a process to recruit and evaluate possible merger partners, and Bosch said a decision may come soon.

“We’re looking at three organizations right now, and they’re all nonprofit,” he said, although he couldn’t identify them yet.

“It’s certainly possible that we may have a decision in the next couple of weeks,” he said, although it may be longer than that before Harrison and whichever organization it affiliates with are ready to make a public announcement.

“I’d love to tell you more details, but I can’t right now,” Bosch said.

While Harrison has conducted its search, there have been significant mergers among other regional hospital systems. One of the most notable was the announcement in August that Catholic Health Initiatives — the parent of Tacoma-based Franciscan Health System, which operates St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor and has a presence in Kitsap County — plans to merge with PeaceHealth of Vancouver, Wash.

If approved, that merger would see a combined system of 16 hospitals and other facilities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

When the deal was announced, according to an article in the Kitsap Sun, an executive with PeaceHealth said the new system would have more Northwest hospitals affiliate with it, and that wouldn’t be limited to religious-affiliated ones. The executive declined to say whether Harrison might be one of them.

Asked at the chamber lunch whether the Catholic Health Initiatives-PeaceHealth merger would impact Harrison’s search, Bosch paused before answering “maybe.”

He said he couldn’t comment more specifically, but said the hospital board has been monitoring all the merger developments and the “ripple effect” in the industry.

“The landscape is constantly changing,” he noted. “All this is happening while we’re working through what our options are.”

Bosch also stressed that Harrison is not seeking a merger partner because it needs such an affiliation to survive.

“The question is not can we remain independent; we can,” he said. “We’re an extraordinarily strong organization.”

He cited expansion of the Silverdale campus, where a new orthopaedic hospital is under construction, and plans to build an ambulatory care center in Bainbridge Island within the next two years.

But looking to the future, he said affiliating with a larger system may be the best course to sustain Harrison’s ability to be the primary regional health care provider for Kitsap communities.

“This is not something the board has to do, but wants to do,” Bosch said of a potential merger.

And though he couldn’t say what organization Harrison might partner with, he emphasized that the hospital has been open and transparent with the public and with its employees about the process it’s been going through.

“We’re nine months into this process, and this is a very important decision that you do not want to rush,” he said.

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