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Why We Need Your Vote
Three years ago CHI Franciscan left Vashon. With the prospect of limited medical service to treat a broken arm, the flu or the many other day-to-day medical needs of our island population, the Vashon-Maury Health Collaborative searched for another provider. With the support from the community, Neighborcare Health reopened the clinic and began providing services on an accelerated schedule.
Unfortunately, we’re in the same position again. Even utilizing a lean and basic service model, declining insurance reimbursement rates have resulted in ongoing operational deficits. Facing these losses, Neighborcare Health cannot continue to provide clinic services on the island indefinitely.
A Common Problem in Rural Washington
We’re not alone. In most communities in Washington, supplementary funds are required to support basic medical service levels. This is particularly true in rural areas such as ours. Significant and sustainable funding is needed to supply adequately robust services of the kind that our community wants and needs. As other communities have learned, even significant foundational support and fundraising activities are not sustainable enough to attract and keep the services that are needed.
The most viable and sustainable long-term solution is the creation of a public hospital district, supported by a public taxing district.
A district is the only means by which we will be able to continue to have a medical clinic providing sustainable primary care services accessible by all the members of our island community. A district also allows island residents to take control of the medical services offered on the island and to become empowered to change or enhance services in the ways that best suit the needs of the island now and in the future.
No one is suggesting that we build a hospital on the island. We do not have the population or patient load to support such a facility. The words “hospital district” are words that are required under State of Washington law for organizations of the type we are discussing. We would actually be forming a public health district run by commissioners responsive and responsible to the island who would have the authority to negotiate for, support and manage certain medical services on the island. This would be a dramatic change from the recent past (and current) practice of placing the decisions about how to provide care for islanders in the hands of external health organizations.
Let’s be clear: This effort is not about any specific provider, although we are grateful to Neighborcare Health, who came to us in our time of need. Whether you are happy with current service levels or you desire improvements, we are currently on a financial path to neither. The commissioners we elect will work to find the right fit for medical care for Vashon. They will create a plan for the hospital district and set a tax rate.
To be sure, there are challenges posed by the establishment of a district supported by property tax revenues. Current local property taxes have been near the maximum amount assessable by law, and while rising property values have created a little bit of financial room to work with, there isn’t enough available tax revenue to support the maximum amount every taxing district could legally take. It will be important for public hospital district commissioners to work together with other districts to prioritize needs and to determine how funds are allocated. It is important for the community to engage in those discussions as well. The fact that islanders are weary of increasing property taxes should not be overlooked, but the price of saying no to a district will once again place local health care options in jeopardy.
We invite you to join us in the effort to create a public hospital district here. The measure will appear on the November ballot. In the meantime, we’re working to educate our friends and neighbors of the benefits. There’s a lot to do and we need your help.