Still smarting from the impending loss of their family birthing center, Redmond community leaders are forming a new hospital board to advocate for the community’s health care needs and push for greater representation on the St. Charles Health System board of directors.

The board, to be called Redmond Hospital Inc., is being positioned as a successor to Central Oregon District Hospital, which transferred the assets of the Redmond hospital to St. Charles in 2000. The asset-transfer agreement granted the Redmond hospital district the right to elect three members to the St. Charles board and the ability to veto any closure.

“Initially that did occur,” said Ed Fitch, a Redmond lawyer and former mayor who is pushing for the new board. “But for the last 10 years, Redmond has had no representation on the board of St. Charles.”

The St. Charles board has members from Bend, Madras, Prineville and Sisters and in the past four years has appointed members from Portland, Chicago and South Dakota, Fitch said.

“But Redmond has none and hasn’t for some time.”

In a statement to The Bulletin, St. Charles officials said the health system intentionally moved away from a board comprised of community representatives in order to foster a more system- and region-centric view.

“The directors on today’s board are not asked to advocate specifically for the hospitals or clinics located closest to their homes,” the statement said. “Instead, they are asked to advocate generally for all of St. Charles’ hospitals and clinics.”

Hospital officials said it is neither appropriate nor financially viable for a health system to provide a full range of services in each of its locations.

“In fact, it is becoming increasingly evident that attempts to be all things to all communities may be causing some health systems to sacrifice viability for expediency.”

The Redmond City Council is scheduled to consider a resolution backing the creation of a successor board Tuesday night. The Redmond Chamber of Commerce has approved a similar resolution, and board members of the Redmond School District and the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District have indicated their support.

It’s unclear how much leverage the new board would have with St. Charles. The board may face a legal hurdle in establishing that it is the successor to the Central Oregon District Hospital, which dissolved in 2002, and that the rights granted in the transfer agreement should convey to the new board.

“Obviously, we have some challenges here. We have a 17-year gap since CODH was dissolved,” Fitch said at a City Council meeting last week.

In a phone interview Monday, Fitch said “getting the support from the entire community — the chamber, the city, the park and rec district, the school district — reflects that the whole community believes this could be the appropriate successor.”

The board would consist of four members named by each of those four entities, as well as some at-large members, and could begin work as soon as March.

While the community leaders have been concerned about a lack of representation at St. Charles for some time, the debate over the future of Redmond’s family birthing center last year brought the issue to the forefront.

A St. Charles work group charged with harnessing the increasing costs of childbirth in Central Oregon recommended closing the birthing center in Redmond and sending women to the birthing center at St. Charles Bend instead. Community members packed a City Council meeting in October in hopes of convincing hospital officials to keep the center open. But the St. Charles board of directors voted in favor of the proposal, with the birthing center slated to close sometime this summer.

St. Charles officials said both the Redmond and Bend birthing centers have been operating at less than half capacity, driving up costs for patients and insurance plans. St. Charles has some of the highest costs for births in the state — 20 percent higher than the state average and nearly twice the lowest cost hospital in the state.

The savings from closing the birth center, officials said, could be shifted to provide other services in great demand in Central Oregon. In January, St. Charles announced plans to expand cancer treatment options in Redmond to include radiation treatment.

It’s unclear whether the effort could still prevent the closure of the birthing center or whether greater Redmond representation on the board would have made a difference in the decision.

At the Feb. 19 City Council meeting, Redmond Mayor George Endicott raised the possibility that the effort to create the new hospital board could eventually lead to “divorcing the Redmond hospital from St. Charles.”

Fitch said that was theoretically possible, if St. Charles does not live up to the terms of the transfer agreement.

“There’s an argument to be made,” he said, “if you’re not going to do it, then give the hospital back.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2162,