MONROE, Wash. -- Monroe's Valley General Hospital treats 15,000 people in its emergency room alone every year. Thousands more have been coming for surgeries and other procedures since 1960. On Thursday, Brice Christensen was one of them, recovering from knee surgery.
"Just being able to come across the highway to get quick care as opposed to going to Everett or Kirkland is critical," said his wife Lisa. "Time is everything when it comes to medical issues."
But time may be running out for the hospital. It has been plagued with financial issues and has had to take the extreme measures of closing both its maternity and psychiatric units in recent years to control costs. Now, financial issues are threatening the community hospital once again, and threatening countless people in this rural region.
"I would hate to see people way out in Sultan or Gold Bar not be able to go to a hospital," said Christensen.
Valley General has lost more than $4 million per year over the past five years. In 2013 administrators had to take out a half-million dollar loan to pay the bills. The latest blow is an ominous report from the State Auditor raising "substantial doubt about (the hospital's) ability to continue."
"This hospital is not financially healthy at this point," conceded CEO Eric Jensen.
A flood of uninsured patients during the Great Recession has crippled the hospital, making it the number one facility in the state for uncompensated care.
"A lot of people lost jobs, lost insurance. This hospital's charity care in 2012 was 10% of our gross revenue," said Jensen.
Eric Jensen was brought in a year ago to save Valley General. He has cut millions more from the budget, and partnered with other providers to bring in more money. Most important, he got a permanent tax approved by voters that will soon bring in an additional 2.4 million dollars per year.
"I think this hospital has a bright future," he said. "The community voted. They want us here."
But will Jensen's efforts be enough? The CEO says, they will have to be, while he tries to resuccitate the ailing hospital.
"This hospital is the medical safety net for this community," said Jensen. "This is a multi-year process. It's not something that can change overnight."