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AGO 1952 No. 232 - January 30, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

PUBLIC HOSPITAL DISTRICT ‑- DISCOUNTS BY ‑- TO DOCTORS AND NURSES.

It is our conclusion that service may be given affiliated doctors and nurses by hospital districts at a lower rate than the regular charges and that special discounts may be extended to members of the clergy.

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                                                                 January 30, 1952

Honorable Maloy Sensney
Prosecuting Attorney
Benton County
Prosser, Washington                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 232

Dear Sir:

            Your letter of November 16, 1951, requests our opinion on the following questions:

            "Is a Public Hospital District organized under the laws of the State of Washington authorized or permitted to render services to a doctor or a nurse and give a twenty per cent discount or other discount which is currently given by charitable or other nonprofit hospitals?

            "Is the public hospital district authorized and permitted to give a discount of twenty per cent to members of the clergy?"

            You further state that:

            "Attention should be directed to the fact that it is the custom and practice among nonprofit and charitable hospitals to give a discount to doctors  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] and to nurses primarily for the purpose of inducing them to render services to the hospital to permit their patients to come to the hospital and to otherwise favorably consider the facilities considered by such hospital."

            It is our conclusion that service may be given affiliated doctors and nurses by hospital districts at a lower rate than the regular charges and that special discounts may be extended to members of the clergy.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 6, chapter 264, Laws of 1945 (§ 6090-6 (c) Rem. Supp. 1945), as amended by § 18, chapter 197, Laws of 1949 (§ 6090-35 Rem. Supp. 1949), provides in part:

            "All public hospital districts organized under the provisions of this act shall have power:

            "* * *

            "(c) * * * and they [hospital districts] may further receive in said hospital and furnish proper and adequate services to all persons not residents of said district at such reasonable and fair compensation as may be considered proper:  PROVIDED, That it must at all times make adequate provision for the needs of the district and residents of said district shall have prior rights to the available facilities of said hospitals, at rates set by the District Commissioners, * * *."

            The language of this statute is very broad, and gives to the district commissioners a wide latitude in fixing the rates to be charged for service of hospitals.

            It is necessary for any hospital to have doctors and nurses attached to the staff, or making use of its facilities.  It would seem to us that the giving of a discount to staff members would be part of the consideration covering the contract relationship between the hospital and its staff members and that such a discount may also be extended to other doctors and nurses who use the hospital facilities for their patients.  If it is necessary that such discounts be given in order to procure an adequate staff for the hospital, then the fact that such doctors and nurses have by agreement attached themselves to the staff or use the facilities of the hospital for patients would be a part of the consideration.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            While the case is not closely in point, some of the reasoning of the court inChristie v. The Port of Olympia, 27 Wn. (2d) 534, 179 P. (2d) 294, might be of interest.  In such case the court approved a labor contract of a port district, pointing out the fact that the port district was engaged in a proprietary undertaking in direct competition with private businesses offering the same services.  In the case of hospital districts, the hospital established would be in direct competition for the services of competent doctors and nurses with private hospitals of the state.  We believe, therefore, that the court would recognize the right of the district to extend discounts to members of its staff as being proper as a part of the consideration of a contract entered into between the hospital and its staff and that, in addition, such contract should be approved as necessary to a business engaged in competition with other like businesses.

            As a matter of custom, from time immemorial the clergy have received special consideration in hospitals and like institutions.  This treatment is based upon the inherent nature of their occupation as clergymen.  It is well known that the clergyman is required to succor the sick and distressed and that his monetary rewards are not comparable with the average of lay individuals.  The good clergyman is required to comfort the ill and console the dying, both at their homes and at hospitals, without thought of compensation, at any hour of the day or night.

            It is our opinion that the power to regulate rates given the hospital district commissions is broad enough to allow the promulgation of a special schedule to apply to clergymen.  See also the reasoning inChristie v. The Port of Olympia, supra.  However, we do recommend that hospital districts request the legislature to enact statutes governing the giving of reduced rates similar to the provisions of the public service commission law of this state.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

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