Starting in January, Cascade Healthcare Community (CHC), parent company of St. Charles Bend and St. Charles Redmond, will become responsible for operating all the services at Pioneer Memorial Hospital (PMH) in Prineville under a 23-year lease agreement.

The boards of both PMH and CHC agreed to the lease last week and the decision was finalized by a vote of Pioneer Memorial's community membership Monday night.

"We're excited to move forward with the lease agreement and are looking forward to the opportunities it will create for PMH," said Mark Severson, board chair of the Prineville hospital. "By expanding our relationship with CHC, we are ensuring that the future of hospital services in Prineville is secure."

The two healthcare organizations have had a long-standing relationship, but the lease agreement takes their collaboration to another level. CHC has historically managed the Prineville Hospital, providing leadership support and employing its administrator.

Under the terms of the new lease agreement, CHC will pay a monthly fee to PMH to lease its buildings and equipment, which PMH will continue to own. Employees of the Prineville hospital will become CHC employees, and as such will transition to the salary and benefits of CHC.

The Prineville hospital will maintain the Pioneer Memorial Hospital name.

James A. Diegel, FACHE, president and CEO of CHC, said the organization is committed to continuing the services currently provided in Prineville and expanding healthcare services in Crook County where necessary.

The lease agreement will give PMH access to capital to make improvements to its facilities, technology and equipment, while coordinating healthcare in the Central Oregon region.

"With this lease, we are moving toward creating a truly integrated health system throughout the region," Diegel said. "We believe the agreement is in the best interest of our communities and will enable both organizations to better meet the health needs of our patients."

Side by side Tuesday, members of the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) and administrators for Cascade Healthcare Community (CHC), parent company of St. Charles Bend and St. Charles Redmond, signed a three-year contract for registered nurses in Bend.

This is the first time in memory that negotiations between the ONA and CHC have been completed before an existing contract expired, said Leslie Toll, labor relations manager for CHC. And the successful negotiation symbolizes how far the relationship between ONA and CHC has come in the past 18 months.

"The entire ONA negotiating team felt the difference in negotiations," said Alison Hamway, labor representative for the ONA in Bend. "It is definitely a much more positive relationship."

Rebuilding the rapport between the two groups has been a goal of CHC President and CEO James A. Diegel, FACHE, since he took over as head of the organization in the spring of 2006.

"We have taken a fractured relationship and repaired it to one built on trust, integrity and a mutual aim of delivering high-quality healthcare to our patients and community," Diegel said.

Shelley Lewis-Leander, a registered nurse at St. Charles Bend and chairwoman of the Bend ONA bargaining unit, agreed that the process and overall relationship have improved.

"We're extremely pleased with the direction the hospital is going and the leadership of Jim Diegel," Lewis-Leander said. "We are working collaboratively toward the same goal of what's best for St. Charles."