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Originally published September 17, 2009 at 4:21 PM | Page modified September 18, 2009 at 9:46 AM

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Northwest Hospital & Medical Center to become part of UW Medicine system

Northwest Hospital & Medical Center will become part of UW Medicine, a deal that will make the Northgate-area hospital a member of the region's leading teaching and research medical institution.

Seattle Times health reporter

Northwest Hospital & Medical Center

Founded: 1960

Active physicians: 323

Total employees: 1,856

Annual births: 1,102

Clinical highlights: First in the region to use Gamma Knife for noninvasive brain surgery; hyperbaric oxygen therapy for wound care; region's first labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum childbirth suites; Washington's first noninvasive EsophyX procedure for reflux.

Source: 2009 data from Northwest Hospital & Medical Center

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Northwest Hospital & Medical Center will become part of UW Medicine, pairing one of King County's smaller community hospitals with the region's leading teaching and research medical institution.

The deal, announced Thursday, is the latest of a handful of consolidations that have slowly reshaped the state's hospital industry this decade. It comes five years after Northwest backed out of a proposed merger with Swedish Medical Center, Washington's dominant health-care player.

Most immediately, the deal makes Northwest the third hospital to become part of UW Medicine. The two others are Harborview Medical Center and University of Washington Medical Center.

For UW Medicine, Northwest will give it its northernmost presence in Seattle, in the Northgate area. It also will help expand UW Medicine's clinical capacity, offering programs in cardiology, oncology and maternal and child care.

The expansion is critical, according to UW Medicine CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey, in order for UW to continue serving as the primary training ground for future physicians in Washington, Idaho, Alaska, Montana and Wyoming.

"We're the only medical school that covers the five states," said Ramsey, who also is the dean of UW School of Medicine.

Patients should benefit from increased partnership between the two institutions and expanded services, said Karen Peck, a spokeswoman for Northwest.

Already, Northwest houses a UW Medicine cardiac-surgery program. That arrangement dates back to a long-term collaboration agreement on patient care signed in 1997.

Northwest will remain a separate nonprofit, tax-exempt entity — retaining its name and separate staff, billing system and union contracts — but two Northwest trustees will serve on the board of UW Medicine. Bill Schneider, Northwest's CEO, will report to Ramsey.

Northwest lost nearly $13 million last year, its first loss since 2003. But Schneider said he did not seek to align with UW Medicine out of financial concerns.

Rather, he said, becoming part of UW Medicine will strengthen Northwest in ways it couldn't on its own, including piggybacking on UW's electronic medical-records system.

"We are a strong and economically viable" hospital, Schneider said. And "we want to make sure that we (stay) strong."

The 281-bed hospital opened in 1960 primarily to serve Seattle's North End residents who lived a distance away from major medical campuses downtown.

Even today, Northwest's modest campus contrasts sharply with competitors' gleaming headquarters and new helistops.

In 2004, Northwest and the much-larger Swedish announced they would merge. But Northwest's board scuttled the deal three months later, partly out of concerns about management turmoil between Swedish's chief executive and its medical staff.

Since then, at least two hospitals in Washington have been absorbed by larger rivals. In 2006, Good Samaritan Community Healthcare in Puyallup agreed to join with MultiCare Health System of Tacoma. The next year, Enumclaw Regional Hospital became part of Tacoma's Franciscan Health System.

Stevens Hospital in Edmonds recently hired a consultant to scout out potential business partners that could end its existence as an independent hospital.

Cassie Sauer, vice president of communications for the Washington State Hospital Association, said she expects other smaller hospitals to seek out partners as a buffer against tightened budgets in the hospital industry.

Ramsey would not rule out job cuts after Northwest becomes part of UW Medicine's fold, effective in January. "In health care, there is always realignment," Ramsey said.

Kyung Song: 206-464-2423 or ksong@seattletimes.com. Seattle Times news researcher David Turim contributed to this report.

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