Orcas needs a hospital district | Letter

For many years, health care providers on Orcas struggled to provide the best primary care they could, all the while watching the inevitable red ink on the balance sheet. It’s been like trying to sail a steady course on a slowly sinking ship. We’ve looked for ways to cut staff, delay repairs to equipment and buildings, and tried to increase revenues. We’ve denied pay raises to hard-working staff and cut their benefits. But it’s not been nearly enough. Local philanthropy has been the “finger in the dyke” for a long time.

And if that were not problem enough, Orcas health care is like a microcosm of a much larger picture of struggling medical care nationwide. Commercial insurances are for-profit industries and can leave markets at their own whim. And those who have worked with Medicare and Medicaid know these two programs, so important to many of us, are vulnerable to government cut-backs, depending on who’s in charge. With so much uncertainty at the national level, the sinking ship is also trying to steer through the fog!

On the pinnacle of the problem pyramid sits Rural Health, with fewer doctors per capita, higher expenses, an older population, and lower insurance reimbursement rates – just to name a few.

The Coalition for Orcas Health Care (COHC) is dedicated to finding a lasting, island-wide solution to these problems. Many of us have worked in health care delivery and understand the depth and complexity of the problems. Maybe the government will find a solution. But it could be years in the making and we can’t afford to wait.

However, WE have the opportunity to take some control back into our own hands by engaging a legal mechanism designed specifically for the purpose: a Public Hospital District. The COHC has petitioned to place this mechanism on the ballot in April, 2018. Between now and April, we have much work to do to answer many questions. Sustainable health care on Orcas is a problem that can affect all of us, and I hope all of us will take part in the conversation to find a solution.

Alison Shaw

Orcas Island