Health care district hosts first regular meeting

With one regular meeting now in its rearview mirror, the Orcas Health Care District is on its way to becoming an established entity.

The OHCD board of commissioners met for its first regular meeting on Tuesday, May 15.

“As everybody knows, we exist, we have no money. Which is a wonderful situation to be in,” said Richard Fralick, chairman of the commission. “So we’re trying to get ourselves to the point we at least have some money so we can take care of the day-to-day (operations). And the long-term, of course, is how we fund a hospital district for a period of time between now and when tax funds become available to the commission, which is not available until April of 2019.”

Along with Fralick, Art Lange, Pegi Groundwater and secretary Patty Miller were also in attendance, while Diane Boteler was off island for a previously scheduled teaching engagement.

Established during a special meeting on May 8 were four subcommittees with the purpose of tackling a different part of a task list. The list was divided into four groups: technology, staffing, legal and finance. First to present was the finance subcommittee comprised of Fralick and Miller.

“At this point, our focus has just been to understand both short-term financing and long-term financing options,” Miller said. “We are basing our initial estimates on the work that we had done for the town hall in January, I believe. Outdated information but still the best information we have at this point.”

Immediate funding options before tax money is available include a loan or a line of credit. The commission is considering Washington Federal, Islanders Bank, the Port of Orcas and San Juan County all as potential benefactors.

“Each finance entity has different options available,” Miller said. “We’re going to have to sort through that and make a decision.”

The commission made the decision to speak with the county finance committee – the auditor, treasurer and chairman of the county council – about a loan.

Last year, Lopez Island Hospital District borrowed $200,000 from the county, Miller said.

“Part of the challenge is we need to look at the timing of all the payments and everything to be paid out,” Miller said. “We need to have some idea of what we want to borrow from the county.”

Miller explained that for the commission to get a loan with the county, it would have to establish the tax levy. Lopez signed a resolution on June 1, 2017, setting its tax levy rate five months prior to when it needed to be established. Lopez commissioners approved a rate of 75 cents per thousand, which is the maximum for a hospital district.

“The assessor doesn’t want that until November, and we don’t want to send a confusing message to our community that we’re jumping the gun,” Miller said. “They said that they would require that resolution but that nothing would stop us from doing a second one.”

The subcommittee responsible for researching preliminary legal aspects of establishing a public hospital district is comprised of Groundwater and Lange. The two commissioners narrowed the field of potential attorneys down to two finalists.

“I think after doing some really considerable due diligence – I’ve called a bunch of public hospital districts and these are the names that kept coming up. I think we’re down to Don Black and Brad Berg,” Lange said. “Both of those guys – Don Black and Brad Berg – come highly recommended from a lot of different sources.”

The commissioners indicated that they’re leaning toward hiring Berg, who works for Seattle-based law firm Foster Pepper. Lopez and San Juan public hospital districts both use Foster Pepper for their counsel. The next step in the process is to interview the two remaining attorney candidates and decide.

In staffing subcommittee news, the two representatives, Boteler and Groundwater, have a meeting with Lopez’s public hospital district commission on May 30 and received a job description for superintendent from the Mason public hospital district.

Finally, the technology subcommittee has established a website,, and email addresses for the commissioners.

In new business, the commission voted to establish a fifth subcommittee for communications, which will be led by Lange.

“We can’t forget that we had good support in the election, and we can’t forget that the community needs to know what we’re doing,” Miller said. “We have to allocate time for communication at the beginning. We need to send that message that we know how important that is.”

The commission also discussed researching and potentially applying for the county’s public facilities financing assistance program.

“Anything we can do to lessen the expense to the district would be just fine,” Lange said, urging the commission to decide how it defines preventive and urgent care. “I would just want to make sure that we understand exactly what [UW Medicine’s] model is and [Orcas Family Health Clinic]’s too, for that matter, even though they’re not part of a system. What do we want for this community?”