Coalition for Orcas Health Care petitions for public hospital district

Submitted by the Coalition for Orcas Health Care

Volunteers for the Coalition for Orcas Health Care (COHC) will seek for register voters signature on a petition for a Public Hospital District on Orcas.

The COHC is a group of Orcas citizens dedicated to the concept of comprehensive, sustainable health care services for all Orcas residents and visitors – now and into the future.

The COHC began as a small group of people with a special interest in health care, some of whom have unique experiences having worked in the healthcare field. They’ve contributed several letters to the editor in our local news media and participated in conversations online – all in support of that elusive goal on Orcas: truly consistent, sustainable primary care, including urgent and after-hours care.

They know from first-hand experience that the clinics on Orcas struggle to survive financially. The issues facing rural health care aren’t unique to Orcas; generous philanthropic donations have kept Orcas clinics afloat for many years.

“Many people have monitored our health care revenues and expenses, and Orcas clinics have tried various ways to maximize revenues, but it’s always the same story,” said Alison Shaw, retired clinic manager and COHC member. “The reasons are many, but the simple truth is, insurance and self-pay revenues cannot support comprehensive medical care in rural practice.”

The COHC began investigating ways to support the island’s health care, guided by one, golden rule: A solution must support health care services for everyone on

Orcas. Coalition members met with local physicians, nurses, health care administrators, the chief of Orcas Island Fire and Rescue, and other stakeholders. The concerns all focused on one need: sustainable financial support to shore up the clinics and provide resources to fill gaps in other needed services and programs. And that need pointed to one financial mechanism: a Public Hospital District.

“There is no intent to build a hospital on Orcas,” said Art Lange, COHC member. “By state law, the definition of a Public Hospital District means a public health services district. Our focus is on health services for everyone, for now and for generations to come.”

COHC has submitted a draft petition to the San Juan County Council. When approved, coalition members will be in the community, asking for signatures.

“Our primary goal now is to get enough signatures on the petition to place a measure on the ballot in April 2018. This will give all members of the community time to learn more about the issue, discuss it thoroughly, and come to a vote about how to ensure the provision of primary and urgent care in a financially sustainable manner,” said Dale Heisinger, retired pediatrician and COHC founding member. “Lack of sufficient funding for Orcas health care has been going on for many years. I fear if we don’t act now, our clinics and the ability to tend to the well-being of islanders will be in serious jeopardy very soon.”