Though the clinic saw its first patient at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, UW Medicine’s new Orcas office held a ribbon cutting ceremony during an open house on Oct. 20.
“This is what happens when a community comes together,” Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, told the Sounder following the ceremony. “We’re going to have access to literally some of the best health care in the world.”
Island Hospital severed its contract with Orcas Medical Center and UW Medicine took over management this fall.
However, not everyone is convinced that UW Medicine is beneficial to the island.
“First of all, let me say that I understand that this turnover is a work in progress – that it’s probably too early to make a real determination as to whether we as an island population are better served by the new medical group than by the old,” Orcas Islander Clarissa Liening told the Sounder. “That being said, the transition process is, I believe, what has caused confusion, frustration, and yes, anger.”
Since the clinic opened, Liening experienced a few situations that “left the start of a bad taste in many patient’s mouths.” She, along with others, said Dr. Tony Geifer, who worked at the Orcas Medical Center for 12 years prior to the transition, was “unceremoniously fired or asked to resign.”
“I just learned … that I was not offered a position with the new UW Medicine clinic and my current contract with Island Hospital will be ending at the end of this month,” Giefer wrote in a letter to the Sounder in June.
Liening also stated that she was frustrated by the lack of communication from UW Medicine to the community during the transition. Past patients of Orcas Medical Center said they were frustrated they had to make 45-minute “new patient appointments” often set several weeks out, and that their medical history was not transferred over. Others cited there were no slots available for same-day, urgent care appointments.
“The clinic that was here before was an Island Hospital clinic, so when Island Hospital left, that closed. So whoever came in – whether it was UW or anyone else that came in – by definition, everybody has to basically restart as a new patient from a medical billing perspective,” said Executive Director of UW Neighborhood Clinics Debra Gussin. “It doesn’t mean we don’t know you – doesn’t mean the staff doesn’t still know who you are and we’re not going to continue to take care of you.”
Patients complained on social media about filling out multiple documents to have medical information transferred from Island Hospital to UW Med’s electronic record system, Epic. Because they have to go through an extra step to have their medical data transferred, people have complained that UW Medicine misled the community when it stated that $350,000 was needed in advance to digitize existing patient records.
Gussin and Director of Rural Primary Care Operations for UW Medicine Jay Priebe said that the estimated cost included not only the digitization but also updating and upgrading technologies and equipment in the office.
“Really the staff is the same and we have your records so things should be pretty seamless,” said Gussin. “It is just the registration piece where you have to sign up.”
Gussin applauded the clinic on staying open during the transition and is thankful for the three providers who are working at the clinic, Dr. David Russell, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner Kirsten Pickard and Dr. Michael Alperin, chief of medicine.
“We’re in a situation now where we have a long-term commitment from this incredible institution that is the University of Washington to Orcas Island,” said Ranker. “We’re just extremely fortunate at this point in time.”
For existing patients of OMC, you can request your records be released by Island Hospital to UW Medicine, visit https://www.islandhospital.org/medicalrecords.
Orcas Public Hospital District
UW Medicine’s long-term presence on Orcas Island relies heavily on whether the community approves the creation of a public hospital district.
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.
During a San Juan County Council meeting on Oct. 31, the council voted unanimously to allow a measure for the public hospital district to be on the April 24 special election ballot.
The Coalition for Orcas Health Care, an organization that began when Island Hospital announced to withdraw from the Orcas Medical Center last September, gathered 606 signatures out of a required 361 for the measure to be considered by the council.
“I fully support the motion in front of us as well as I do fully support the formation of this district,” said County Council Chairman Rick Hughes. “I hope the voters follow suit.”
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.
COHC Chairman Dale Heisinger spoke at the Orcas Island Rotary Club meeting on Oct. 29 and again at the council meeting.
“We want a public hospital district that will enable all the members of our community to have access to quality primary urgent and after-hours care,” Heisinger said at the Rotary meeting. “We think that all currently existing primary care practices should receive financial aid.”
For more information on the public health district campaign, visit https://www.coalitionfororcashealthcare.com/.