Orcas Health Care District requests proposals for a consolidated clinic | UW Medicine announced it will not be applying

As announced earlier this year, the Orcas Island Health Care District is looking to fund a consolidated clinic that brings all of the Orcas providers together.

The district, which was formed in April 2018, provides financial support to sustain primary and urgent health care on Orcas. Currently, it subsidizes two separate practices — UW Medicine Orcas Island Clinic and Orcas Family Health Center — serving a year-round population of just over 5,000 and a seasonal population more than twice that size.

The board believes a single clinic model will create operational efficiencies and a more stable health care system. It has been working to initiate the process of identifying a service provider that would begin managing a consolidated practice starting in 2021. On May 8 it issued a Request For Proposal.

“As you might imagine, there was a tremendous amount of thought that went into making the decision to go down this path and, ultimately, release the RFP. This was discussed in our public meetings, and commissioners have been engaged with the leadership at UW Medicine and OFHC throughout the process,” said District Superintendent Anne Presson. “We had the support from both entities as everyone realized the current fragmented system was not able to best meet the needs of our small community.”

After the RFP was released, UW Medicine, which has held a contract at the medical center for three years, informed the board that it will not be submitting an application.

“While we support this effort, UW Medicine continues to experience extraordinary demands related to the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result, are not in a position to apply for this expanded RFP,” UW Medicine Spokesperson Tina Mankowski said. “We’ve been honored to serve the Orcas community for the last few years by providing high-quality primary care. We are proud of what or team has been able to accomplish for the Orcas community. We will continue to care for our patients and manage the clinic under our current contract while working with OIHD, our clinic team and future partners to ensure a smooth management transition, should that become necessary.”

Presson said she realizes “people are concerned about their relationship with their provider, as health care is very personal.”

“That said, the board has been clear that their focus is on making sure we have island-appropriate, quality health care that operates within a stable and financially sustainable structure for our community. It’s complex and difficult work and, for that reason, I don’t believe any entity has been as committed to understanding what it takes to create a sustainable model in a rural, remote community as the OIHCD Commissioners,” she said. “They take this responsibility very seriously and have done their homework to ensure an understanding of the challenges and opportunities that exist. Beyond the 1:1 relationship with an individual provider, there are complexities in designing a cohesive system that leverages all health care stakeholders in the county – and beyond. We remain committed to ensuring all islanders have access to care when they need it, and the culture of any new entity is one where providers and staff thrive and patients come away with a positive experience.”

The district’s goal with the RFP is to “identify a partner who both understands the challenges inherent in a rural/remote community and is excited about the opportunity to partner with the district to design a sustainable health care model for Orcas Island.”

Responses to the request are due June 26. Review and follow up questions will occur between June 27 and July 24. The board will make a final award at its Aug. 5 regular meeting. The target opening of a new, restructured clinic is between January and March 2021.