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Hospital board races too close to call
With hundreds of absentee ballots still uncounted, the three hospital board of commissioners races are too close to call.
At 9:45 p.m., with all the San Juan precincts reporting, Lyle Tarte was ahead of John Geyman by 220 votes, or 54.5 percent for the Position 5 seat.
For Position 4, Homer Smith was outpolling Karen Weeks Nelson by 218 votes or 54.5 percent.
In the closest race, James Patterson was ahead of Leslie Brennan for Position 1 with just 71 votes, or 51 percent. Yet in a county where political elections are won or lost by as little as 28 votes, these slim margins are the norm.
However the final counts fall, the winners can glean a few unassailable facts from their razor-thin victories. For the incumbents Patterson and Geyman, as well as Karen Weeks Nelson, it is a wake-up call to the current board of commissioners.
If the three challengers win, it validates their platform. This race has gone to the righteous.
Leslie Brennan, Lyle Tarte and Homer Smith may have run as a bloc of candidates for financial reasons -- campaigning, even on San Juan Island, can get expensive -- but they also shared a basic philosophy: the three full-time doctors employed at the Medical Center were fired by the board, and that was wrong.
How each would go about righting that wrong, and move past the medical centers acrimonious recent history, remains to be seen.
The Journal asked all the candidates what their first actions would be should they win.
Position No. 4: Homer Smith has a clear idea of what hell do right out of the election chute. First order of business would be to go in and meet with (board chair) George Johnson, with (medical center CEO) Kathy Guy, and with (interim medical director) Marcia Zakariason, he said. We have to build bridges, build a team between the medical center staff and the board.
Smith wants to know exactly what those three key players see in terms of the centers future.
Next on his list would be to commission a public survey. That was one of my campaign promises, he said, to get the community involved, to have their voices heard.
There has been this move toward a large, grandiose plan for the medical center, he said. Perhaps islanders have another idea.
Smith also wants to investigate the issue of the medical centers gag order. There are different interpretations of what the centers administration told employees, said Smith, and hed like to get that issue sorted out in the interests of better communication. His wife, Elizabeth, has worked at the clinic for 23 years, he said, and that relationship has given him an important perspective.
Position No. 4: Karen Nelson, who has a background in administration as well as nursing, said she filed for a position on the board because she felt it was her responsibility to do so. I had this experience, she said, and I thought it was important to offer that to the community if they want it.
Her number one task is good quality assurance for the medical center. Nelson said she would do a island resident survey first to get a good read on what islanders want from the medical center. We think we know what residents want, but we need to hear it from them, she said.
Nelson said quality assurance doesnt stop with one survey, even if the changes are implemented. Its not a one-shot thing, Nelson said. In its broadest sense quality assurance is a measurement of all the activities of a clinic, from customer input on physicians, nurses and the front desk, to how it all works together. Its an on-going process and we have to get the systems in place.
Position No. 5: John Geyman said he will maintain the positive directions that have been established by this existing board. The vision of an improved group practice, through recruitment, can go forward.
Geymans second focus is improving access for patients in terms of available hours, using Electronic Medical Records, pursuing a partnership with the University of Washington and their telemedicine program and a quality assurance program.
I know people want more access, longer hours for scheduled appointments and continuity with selected providers, he said. They also want the best quality of care they can get.
Geyman will work to redesign the clinic so administrators know whats happening within the whole team. Be it nursing, physicians, speciality consultants, laboratory or X-ray, we really have to establish a team.
Medical practice is a team sport, he said, and every player has an important role.
Position No. 5: Lyle Tarte wants to get up to speed right away. Im going to gather the transcripts of meeting minutes so I get a feel for whats gone on, where the board is on with projects, new doctors, new grounds and building projects, take a look at budgets for the last three years, get to know other board members and get to work.
Tarte also wants to bring television access to board meetings. Im going to talk to the local cable access channel, so I can broadcast the board meetings and make videotapes for those who dont have cable, he said.
I think a lot of whats gone on has been kind of secret. This will enable the voters to have some sense of participation and when they contact the individual board members, theyll be knowledgeable.
There has been more attention being paid at the clinic to whats gone on in the past, Tarte continued. I like the fact that the issues that got me to run are being discussed. I like the way the audience responded to challengers and incumbents at the candidates forum. I liked their questions; they were well thought out and important.
Position No. 1: Leslie Brennan was unavailable for comment on election night, but has been the most outspoken of the three about her feelings toward the previous board.
In her opening statements at the League of Women Voters Candidates Forum Oct. 25, Brennan spelled it out. I am running because I care about the medical center and I think this board was wrong in firing the doctors, and wrong in wasting our tax dollars on locum doctors.
Brennan, an Emergency Medical Technician on the island, said she felt the close-knit relationship between the doctors and the EMTs and paramedics was a benefit to emergency patients. In emergencies, as well as for ongoing medical care, our community deserves nothing short of the best care and the finest doctors.
Position No. 1: James Patterson said his first mission would be to continue putting together a team of physicians who are right for this community. Im excited about the new physician (Dr. Michael Wingren) weve hired, Patterson said. He has real leadership ability and community dedication.
Pattersons second goal is to expand the services available at the clinic, including telemedicine, consulting specialists and equipment.
He believes there should be some emphasis on team-building across all departments. We should all be on the same team, he said. I see no issue here that we should be divided on.
For statewide results visit State Election Results site.