Why you should care about the hospital district | Editorial

The future of health care on Orcas Island is unknown.

In April 2018, Orcas residents will be deciding whether to accept a public hospital district and voting in commissioners who would oversee the district’s operations and set the tax levy rate.

The Sounder will write an editorial about its position on the hospital district at a later date, but for now, we’d like to stress how important it is to understand the facts of the measure and who the commissioners are, as they will decide how the tax money is distributed, should the district pass.

Island Hospital severed its contract with the Orcas Medical Center in fall 2016. UW Medicine took over management of the clinic this past September and has stated that without a major funding source, its time on Orcas will be limited. Orcas Family Health Center, the only other clinic on the island, has also publicly stated that it needs an additional funding source to survive. Rural primary and urgent care is a critical issue – particularly in regards to an aging population that is located on an island without any after-hour care besides a primarily volunteer EMS department.

There are 58 public hospital districts in the state of Washington and fourteen of those districts are not associated with an actual hospital but instead with clinics. One of the districts is on Lopez Island, where voters overwhelmingly approved the measure in April 2017. Lopez commissioners set the levy rate at 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, which is the maximum amount for a PHD as allowed by state law.

Richard Fralick, Pegi Groundwater and Patricia Miller are all running unopposed for commissioner positions. Art Lange and Leif (no last name) are running against each other, and Steve Hulley, John Dann, Richard (R.J.) Myers, Diane Boteler and Bill Bangs are vying for the same spot. The candidates will speak at a town hall meeting on Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Orcas Island Senior Center from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The event will be moderated by Lisa Byers.

Watch the Sounder in March and April for interviews with the candidates.

The Coalition for Orcas Health Care, which has been handling outreach for the PHD, was formed by a dozen community members in 2016. The coalition is doing its due diligence to collect feedback from the public. It has held several town hall meetings since December, and they’ve all been very well attended. Last week, community members were asked to send in questions that would be given to each commissioner candidate to address at the upcoming town hall.

Steve and Jennifer Smith have launched Madrona Voices, a research group that is focusing on the PHD as well as other community issues. It is offering a series of surveys and interviewing each of the candidates, whose responses will be posted on its website. To take the current survey, visit www.madronavoices.com/phd-survey/.

Coalition member Alison Shaw and OFHC manager Aaimee Johnson have written an informative piece about the cost of modern health care at www.islandssounder.com/opinion/The-cost-of-running-a-health-clinic-Guest-column/.

We commend those in our community who are working hard on this issue. We appreciate the town hall sessions, outreach and dialogue.