Orcas Medical Foundation is not serving the residents of Orcas | Guest Column

by David Shinstrom

Special to the Sounder

This letter is to the residents of Orcas Island in the hopes of educating you on the dire situation that is evolving in our medical community. We need people to start taking more interest and actively promote a medical system that will benefit ALL residents and not just a few.

Orcas Medical Foundation hosted a community meeting last Wednesday. Debra Gussin from UW Neighborhood Clinics presented a status report of the discussions between these two groups about a possible management of the Orcas Medical Center by UW clinics. You can read the details of the meeting in the online news. I attended the meeting and would like to share several concerns.

First I would like to present some history. Prior to 1992, there was a revolving door of physicians on Orcas, they would leave after a short time because they were working too hard or not making enough money. The Orcas Medical Center was built with donations by the community in the hopes of halting this turnover. Having a rent free building to house a medical center was hoped to greatly enhance the possibility of financial survival. I was the first employed physician to work in the medical center starting in 1993. The charter of the medical center was to treat all Orcas residents and visitors. Over the past several years the board of the medical center, (Orcas Medical Foundation), has ignored the original mission which has resulted in a significant number of patients being denied access to the community owned and built medical facility. Currently, 75% of Orcas residents do not get health care at the medical center and more recently visitors are being turned away.

Next I would like to discuss finances. Since its inception, the medical center has lost money, usually in excess of $200,000 per year. For the first 10 years, that loss was absorbed by Island Hospital who ceased managing the medical practice in 2003 because of said expense. Since 2003, the loss has been covered by subsidization from the Orcas Medical Foundation who has spent in excess of $4,000,000 over the past 13 years. Island Hospital returned to manage the practice in 2011 and recently has, again, withdrawn because of the financial losses. I refer you to an article that appeared in The Sounder August 13, 2003 where a consultant concluded that a medical practice cannot survive on Orcas without subsidization. Nothing has changed since then.

I believe the possibility of UW Neighborhood Clinics managing a UNIFIED medical practice on Orcas is an outstanding prospect. You will note that I say unified, which means a medical service that would be for the majority of residents and not for the minority of residents.

I am only allowed 500 words per guest editorial. The second half will be published soon which outlines my proposal to merge practices and solve the problem.

David C. Shinstrom, M.D., is the Medical Director at Orcas Family Health Center.