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The sign in front of Virginia Mason Memorial is pictured on Saturday, June 20, 2020 in Yakima, Wash.

Those who want Virginia Mason Memorial to split with Virginia Mason over concerns about access to local care made their case to hospital board members Thursday.

In an evening meeting that lasted about 1½ hours, several people — including members of the retired medical community — spoke to a number of Virginia Mason Memorial board members, said Dr. Richard Twiss, a retired cardiology specialist with more than 60 years of experience.

Thursday’s private meeting took place at an undisclosed location, and discussions were confidential, Twiss said Friday. The meeting preceded a Virginia Mason Memorial board retreat Friday and Saturday.

“I really cannot give you any details except that there was such a meeting and people made good points, and we’ll see what comes of it,” he said.

Memorial is private nonprofit and affiliated with Virginia Mason in 2016. The Seattle-based Virginia Mason Health System and CHI Franciscan, a Catholic-affiliated health care system, announced plans to pursue a merger in mid-July. Discussions are still underway.

Virginia Mason says the merger could improve access to health care in Yakima.

Twiss and Jim Haven, a retired orthopedic surgery specialist who practiced in Yakima, said the merger likely will result in fewer specialty services available locally, fewer specialized physicians and lower-quality patient care. They are part of a group of retired doctors advocating that Virginia Mason Memorial separate from Virginia Mason and become a locally managed hospital.

A full-page ad in the Oct. 11 Yakima Herald-Republic paid for by 31 members of the retired medical community detailed numerous concerns about the proposed merger.

Some advocates worry it will affect access to reproductive health care and Death with Dignity services. CHI Franciscan is bound by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which limit abortion and physician-assisted death for terminally ill patients. In August, Virginia Mason officials said they would ensure the merger does not cause CHI Franciscan to come out of compliance with the directives.

Along with the several speakers at Thursday’s meeting, about a dozen observers attended, Twiss said. The several board members present, who included chairman David Hargreaves, listened attentively and didn’t speak, he said.

“That was planned. The board members would simply listen, that was the plan, and then proceed to their (board retreat) today and tomorrow,” Twiss said.

Participants wore masks and social distanced, he added.

By early next week, supporters of Virginia Mason Memorial separating from Virginia Mason should have a better idea of what Memorial is going to do, Twiss said.

“We’re anxious to know the results of their determination this weekend,” he said.

Memorial is the only hospital in Yakima following the closure of Astria Regional Medical Center in January. Astria Health filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year. It operates hospitals in Sunnyside and Toppenish.

Memorial’s board members are David Hargreaves, Richard Martinez, Sarah Augustine, Dr. Kerry Harthcock, Cynthia Juarez, Dr. Stephen Rupp, James Young, Buffy Alegria, Sonia Rodriguez True, Bruce Heiser, Maribel Torres Jiménez, Gail Weaver and Carole Peet, hospital CEO.

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