Let’s get beyond ‘General Hospital’ | Guest Column

by Donna and Michael Riordan

Special to the Sounder

Having lived on Orcas for six years, we are moderate users of medical services here. The recent medical-care drama, with frequent sniping back and forth over old history and the possibility of the UW Neighborhood Clinics reminds one of us of the aging soap opera “General Hospital.” It was quaint human-focused entertainment that sold lots of soap over the decades – and in the end didn’t solve anyone’s problems.

Based on what we’ve been able to glean from the public meeting at Orcas Center, opinions expressed here and elsewhere, and independent information gathered on the web, we’ve concluded that an association with UWNC would be an excellent option for Orcas for several reasons.

First, it would bring professional, 21st-century medical management to Orcas. Health care delivery has become a complex business system that needs to be overseen and managed by individuals who have the requisite skills required to fulfill those roles. With all due respect to the three fine physicians currently practicing on Orcas, UWNC can provide those new, much needed non-medical, business and technical skills.

Second, UWNC would presumably manage the facility built by this community to best effect. OMC, owned by the Orcas Medical Foundation, is a well-built, modern building but seems under-utilized. We hope that UWNC would figure out how to optimize the space to enable maximal use by physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and other providers.

Third, if UWNC chose to employ the island’s current physicians and other personnel, all the better. It stands to reason that a gradual, rather than abrupt, road to retirement for our elder physicians would benefit both them and islanders. Looking ahead to our needs 5 to 10 years down the road, UWNC is in a much better position to bring medical personnel to the island than we could attract here on our own. UW has the needed cachet as a highly regarded academic medical center. Orcas is a remote location – enticing for a vacation but not for a medical career. We’ve already been down that road many times and found we cannot attract and retain younger physicians. However, younger health-care providers who are part of a larger, more dynamic system will likely be easier to bring here, and they will remain or rotate through if our system is part of UW.

Fourth, UWNC would give us access to high-quality experts via telemedicine that we do not currently have. Given what many of us are paying in medical insurance premiums, the kind of medical care that UWNC will be able to provide is what we should expect. And interacting with specialists on the mainland without having to incur the time and expense of travel and lost work would no longer be a pipe dream. It can be a reality in short order.

But given the history of contracted medical services, this will probably not be an easy transition. Habits die hard, and old habits die the hardest. We therefore hope that the medical foundation and our current physicians will collaborate with UWNC representatives and work out a transition plan that honors their long commitment to the Orcas community. As important, they must work together and in unison to create for all of us a future that integrates local medical care professionals with the much-improved and better-managed services that the UW system can provide in our medical center.

We’re tired of the medical soap-opera drama. Let’s professionalize the care that we’re already paying for. This is our opportunity. Let’s get it done.