Local health care has been a hot topic after Island Hospital severed its contract with Orcas Medical Clinic and UW Medicine took over management this fall.
Over the past year, the Coalition for Orcas Healthcare met with physicians, nurses, administrators, the fire chief and other stakeholders to assess the needs of the community, and it became clear that a hospital district was the best way to provide a dedicated funding source for local services.
“We exhausted all the other options,” said coalition member Art Lange.
Volunteers has been collecting signatures for the initiative to go on the April 3, 2018 ballot. The district would be governed by five elected, at-large commissioners with a superintendent (a hired, paid position) who reports to the commission. The filing period for candidates is Jan. 2–12, 2018. Hospital commissioners would serve six-year terms and be paid $100 per day for any commission-related work, with a salary not to exceed $9,000 per year.
If approved, the levy rate, which can be up to 75 cents per assessed $1,000 of property value, will be determined by the commissioners no later than November 2018 and revenue would be available by early spring 2019. Property value on Orcas is assessed at $2 billion, so the very most a hospital district could bring in is $1.5 million. The rate can be changed every year.
“We aren’t the only communities doing this. We are just a microcosm of what’s happening nationally,” said coalition member Dale Heisinger.
Because of the lag between levy approval and funds coming in, hospital commissioners have the ability to borrow money from a lending agency to make up the difference. Once the revenue amount is determined, the commission will begin assessing the healthcare needs of Orcas and start contract negotiations with medical providers on the island. While the immediate concern is funding primary and urgent care, the hospital district could also fund programs like home health care and counseling.
Based on historical data and projections of revenue, Orcas Medical Foundation and UW Medicine estimate at the very most a $750,000 yearly shortfall to operate and maintain the Orcas Medical Clinic. Before UW committed to managing the Orcas clinic, it required $750,000 to pay for transition costs and a short-term monetary cushion. The community raised that money in just a few months in late 2016. The final contract between UW and OMF is now available online at www.orcasmedicalcenter.com/the-foundation/.
At the other medical facility on the island, Orcas Family Health Center, Dr. David Shinstrom does not receive a salary and the facility relies on donations. An existing third clinic, Orcas Family Medicine, is joining UW’s operations at OMC.
“The goal of the district is to come to decisions on how we, as a community, want to ensure the provision of primary and urgent care in a predictable and sustainable manner for generations to come,” said Lange.
Coalition members have gathered more than 300 signatures (a total of 361 is required) and they are hoping for 500 to provide a cushion for names that are disqualified. The plan is to be done with name gathering by the end of September.
“The majority of people we talk to say they want to see it on the ballot,” said Heisinger.
Lange noted that those he’s spoken with are most excited about a community dialogue. Once signatures are submitted to the elections office, the coalition will begin a public outreach campaign that includes dispersing education materials and holding public forums.
Visit https://www.coalitionfororcashealthcare.com/ for more information. A fund has been set up at Washington Federal for donations to go toward campaign expenses. To sign the petition, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other hospital districts
This April, Lopez voters overwhelmingly approved the formation of a hospital district to fund the Lopez Medical Clinic (also now managed by UW Medicine) and elected five commissioners to oversee it. The tax rate will be set after commissioners assess the Lopez clinic’s financial needs. Tax revenue will be collected starting in April 2018.
The San Juan County Public Hospital District serves the Town of Friday Harbor, San Juan Island and the islands of Brown, Pearl, Henry, Spieden, Stuart and Johns. It has two property tax levies: one that goes to San Juan Island EMS and one for PeaceHealth Medical Center.