PeaceHealth CEO foresees more growth in Clark County

He expects to add 450 workers at HQ by 2017, create regional health care system based in Vancouver

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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It's no surprise health care plays a major role in Clark County's economy. In July alone, for example, the county added 300 jobs in the rapidly changing sector.

But Alan Yordy, president and chief mission officer of PeaceHealth -- the sprawling health care organization that calls Vancouver home -- delivered some fresh numbers and remarks Tuesday that add an exclamation point.

He spoke to an estimated 220 people who turned out for the Columbia River Economic Development Council's third-quarter gathering at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. The event, "Healthcare: An Economic Engine in Clark County," provided Yordy with an opportunity to discuss PeaceHealth's impact in the region and some of the changes that are coming to the health care industry.

PeaceHealth's corporate headquarters, or "shared services center," opened inside Columbia Center at Columbia Tech Center in east Vancouver in January.

Since then, 350 workers have moved in, Yordy said. By 2014, he said, there'll be 450 employees, with an estimated payroll of $27 million, plus benefits.

By 2017, PeaceHealth projects it will have 800 workers at Columbia Center.

The Catholic-sponsored nonprofit signed a 10-year lease agreement with PacTrust, which manages Columbia Tech Center, that includes an option to purchase Columbia Center. Yordy didn't say whether PeaceHealth will exercise that purchase option. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he said.

What's clear is that PeaceHealth liked what it saw in Vancouver when it was considering relocating its headquarters from Bellevue and merging with Southwest Washington Medical Center. In fact, Yordy said, Vancouver was ranked No. 1 — Tacoma was No. 2 — by site selectors.

The magnets that attracted the nonprofit to Vancouver, Yordy said, included the city's "phenomenal" schools, "ample supply" of strong labor, and its reasonable cost of living.

PeaceHealth and Southwest Washington Medical Center finalized their merger in December 2010, launching a nonprofit health system that now has 15,300 employees in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, and an operating budget of about $2.3 billion.

Yordy predicts health care industry consolidation will ultimately leave the Northwest three to five major health systems, with "a few niche providers."

New partnership

For PeaceHealth, more change is already on the way.

That's because PeaceHealth says it will form a partnership with Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives that will create a regional health care system with operations based in Vancouver.

The deal — expected to be completed before June 30, 2013 — will combine seven Catholic Health Initiatives hospitals in Washington and Oregon with nine PeaceHealth hospitals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

The new organization will have revenues of nearly $4 billion, nearly 26,000 employees and about 950 employed physicians.

Nearly every week, PeaceHealth is reviewing a request from a hospital or health care organization to join its larger system, Yordy said. PeaceHealth is now in talks with several other health care companies that are interested in joining the nonprofit's network. Those include Highline Medical Center in Burien and Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton.

"This is the speed with which health care is consolidating," Yordy said.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ;http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com