PeaceHealth wants its HQ here

340 jobs would move to Vancouver from other company sites

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter



The Bellevue-based hospital chain in merger negotiations with Southwest Washington Medical Center plans to relocate its corporate headquarters to Vancouver, the nonprofit organization confirmed Wednesday.

Including PeaceHealth’s already-stated plans to relocate some of its back-office operations, the company would bring 340 new jobs to Vancouver from other PeaceHealth locations. About 260 jobs would be in operational areas such as information technology and accounting, and up to 80 jobs would be relocated from the executive offices in Bellevue, said Brien Lautman, a spokesman for PeaceHealth.

In addition to local job creation, PeaceHealth’s relocation would bring a powerful new economic force to Clark County. Following a merger with Southwest Washington Medical Center, the nonprofit would employ 15,000 people across three states and earn nearly $2 billion in annual revenues.

All of the relocated front- and back-office positions would be housed in what PeaceHealth calls a “shared services center,” a facility aimed at making the organization more efficient and eventually preparing it for growth.

Additionally, Lautman said, another 160 employees who already work in back-office operations for Southwest Washington Medical Center would be moved to the new services center, bringing the total staff there to about 500.

PeaceHealth’s plan is to reach that level of staffing at the services center by 2014. Lautman said PeaceHealth expects “the majority of job transitions” to the new facility would occur between 2012 and 2014.

Ken Cole, spokesman for Southwest Washington Medical Center, said the movement of jobs to Vancouver is “very good for a community that has some significant unemployment issues.”

PeaceHealth’s planned staffing and office moves, confirmed by the organization Wednesday after the Columbian asked about documents the nonprofit sent to Vancouver city officials in August, hinges on PeaceHealth and Southwest completing their planned merger. The boards of both nonprofit medical systems are expected to finalize the merger sometime this month.

Lautman said PeaceHealth must also find a suitable site to set up its planned services center in Vancouver. The nonprofit told Vancouver city officials it was interested in the former Columbian building on Sixth Street downtown, but a deal to move city government offices to that building has already been inked, closing the door on that possibility.

“We’re just beginning to really explore some initial locations outside the work we did on the Columbian building,” Lautman said. “For us, the priority is really successfully landing on the exact right space for our caregivers.”

An Aug. 11 letter sent to Vancouver city government by Alan Yordy, president and chief mission officer for PeaceHealth, reveals what the hospital chain is looking for in a potential services center building.

“This center will have a considerable number of visitors each year, especially if executive offices are located in Vancouver,” Yordy wrote. “This will include multiple board and committee meetings, as well as consultants and caregivers from the three Northwest states served by PeaceHealth.”

‘Building parameters’

In a draft “building parameters” document that was included with Yordy’s letter to the city, PeaceHealth said it was interested in:

• Class A office space with at least 80,000 square feet and up to 120,000 square feet, no more than 10 to 12 years old.

• Three to four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of office space.

• Distance to Portland International Airport of 20 minutes or less.

• Distance to Southwest Medical Center main campus of about 15 minutes or less.

• Data center capability with connectivity to high-speed fiber optic network.

• Ideally, hotel within walking distance of the office building.

• Conference center capabilities or a conference center within walking distance for meetings for up to 200 people.

• Ideally, within walking distance of dining establishments.

In addition, the building parameters said that “to consider executive offices within the building, building must be of appropriate visibility and quality, and able to be primarily identified with PeaceHealth; may have other limited leasing or uses within the building.”

Lautman emphasized that no decisions have been made as to the location of the planned services center. Likewise, the health system has not decided exactly which back-office positions to relocate to Vancouver.

When asked whether Southwest Washington Medical Center required PeaceHealth to relocate its corporate headquarters and some back-office operations to Vancouver as a condition of agreeing to the merger, Lautman said: “It wasn’t a demand. It really was a real collaborative effort that both organizations really came to and are excited about.”

Cole, spokesman for Southwest, said he didn’t know enough about the deal involving PeaceHealth’s corporate headquarters to say how Southwest’s board of directors dealt with it during merger negotiations. However, Cole said, the board “felt strongly” that the shared services center “would need to be part of the affiliation agreement, that it needed to be located in this community.”

Cole said PeaceHealth would prefer not to build a new structure to house the shared services center because that would take longer than the health system would like.

Lautman said PeaceHealth has the resources to retrain employees who choose not to relocate to Vancouver. Any relocated positions that open up because a PeaceHealth employee chooses not to move would be open first to the organization’s current employees in other locations. If there are no takers, then PeaceHealth would seek to fill positions from the Vancouver area labor pool, Lautman said.

PeaceHealth operates seven hospitals with more than 11,000 people in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. PeaceHealth and Southwest launched negotiations in March. If approved as expected, PeaceHealth would become the parent of Southwest Washington Health System, which runs Southwest Washington Medical Center.