With one month left until University of Washington Neighborhood Clinic’s deadline, Orcas Medical Foundation has already raised more than half of the $750,000 it needed to secure a partnership between the two organizations.
As of Dec. 19, the community has donated $500,000 toward the initial transition costs and a one-year anticipated deficit.
“We welcome all donations, no matter how small or large,” said OMF Treasurer Douglas Ellis. “All donations are refundable if we do not succeed in getting UW here.”
Announced during a Nov. 16 meeting, UWNC has proposed to take over the Orcas Medical Center practice on July 1, 2017. However, before UWNC fully commits to Orcas Island, the medical foundation has been tasked with raising the money to convert the clinic’s records to UWNC’s digital service, Epic. The cost of the transition was estimated to be between $300,000 and $350,000. Additionally, UWCN is requiring the foundation have a $300,000 cushion prepared to cover the clinic’s projected deficit.
“Things are moving – they’re tending to move slowly on some days and rapidly on other days,” said OMF Board Member Bill Tudor. “The feedback I’m getting is that it’s going well. People are optimistic.”
In September of this year, Island Hospital chose to not renew its contract with Orcas Medical Center, which has been operating at a deficit for several years.
“Our average (deficit) over the past three years – including after hours care – was $122,000, which OMF has put up to provide a break even situation from Island Hospital,” said Tudor. “The number of $300,000 – which is a cap – is being looked at incorrectly as being what we need to ante up.”
The figure of $300,000 is a maximum amount that OMF is expected to pay to cover possible revenue shortfalls each year. The UWNC plan is to operate on a conservative fiscal basis and grow the practice only as volume grows.
The talk around town and in letters to the Islands’ Sounder has been a repeated question of “why don’t the three island practices just combine into one?” Tudor said that OMC as a stand-alone clinic does not exist. He said that OMF is essentially a landlord to the facility, in which an outside clinic – such as Island Hospital or UWNC – brings its practice into. That’s not the only drawback of uniting the clinics, according to Tudor.
“If we did put all three practices together – and we’ve looked at that – it would lose money,” said Tudor. “We might break even if you go to four practitioners or more – but we don’t have the potential patient base to do that.”
Another item of discussion is the suggestion that OMF will attempt to instill a taxing district to pay for the yearly deficit once UWNC moves into the building.
“First of all, we haven’t proposed or done anything in regards to a taxing district,” said Tudor. “The taxing district in the long term is probably a desirable thing but it’s not something we’re addressing right now.”
In 2000, there were two failed attempts at creating a hospital taxing district on Orcas Island. The first vote failed by only about 3 percent, but the second had a wider margin, failing by just over 11 percent. Tudor said that one of the reasons OMF has not begun discussing the possibility of a hospital district is because there are the three separate practices on the island.
“If there was only one clinic, it’d be pretty straightforward to write a taxing district statute that made sense. It would have to be written in a way that’s fair to everyone on the island,” said Tudor. “Clearly there isn’t going to be any taxing district that isn’t fair.”
Tudor said letters and guest columns from community members in the Islands’ Sounder have put forth a lot of “misinformation,” which may be negatively impacting the fundraising efforts. He insisted that anyone with questions about the prospective partnership between OMC and UWNC read the questions and answers that have been both published in The Sounder (Dec. 14) and are available at the center’s website: http://www.orcasmedicalcenter.com/q-a-omfuw-medicine.
“Really, everybody on the island wants improved healthcare and more up-to-date and integrated with mainstream medicine – but there are obstacles to that,” said Tudor. “What we’re really trying to do is overcome that by just getting information out, answering questions and probably equally importantly try to correct the misinformation.”