New health care coalition seeks input

A new group is seeking feedback from islanders about concerns they have regarding health care on Vashon.

The group, which calls itself the Vashon-Maury Health Collaborative, began as a conversation among a few individuals more than a year ago, said Tag Gornall, a retired veterinarian who chairs the coalition. Since then, the group has expanded to include roughly 30 people, including health care providers. Its focus, Gornall said, is to identify needs and evaluate possible solutions for a variety of issues on Vashon, such as access to health insurance and quality health care, the lack of an on-island urgent care facility and the medical self-sufficiency of the island in case of a disaster.

So far, the group has been studying the situation, talking with public health officials and learning how other rural communities provide health care, ranging from hospital districts to rural health centers. Members are in the beginning stages of understanding problems and what solutions might be, Gornall said.

“We’re not anti anything or pro anything,” he said. “We’re an investigative group trying to eek out what is going to be good for Vashon.”

In an effort to understand the full picture of health care on Vashon, members of the group have delved into some health care statistics from Vashon, he said, and learned some interesting facts about island health matters.

For instance, Gornall said, emergency responders complete more than 600 transports to off-island hospitals each year. Falls lead the list of the most common reasons for transport, followed by septicemia — a serious, potentially life-threatening infection when bacteria makes its way into the blood stream.

Beyond this information, the group hopes to delve deeper, he noted, learning exactly what islanders are transported for, to what facility they were taken and how long they stayed.

In addition to the ambulance transports, Gornall said, he expects that each year at least the same number of friends and family members take sick and injured people off-island as well — a considerable time and expense for everyone involved.

“Could we save money in some ways and provide it in other areas?” he said.

Gornall noted that the island has no facility where patients can be stabilized in a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or serious accident. Even running blood tests on the island is not possible, he said.

“Is there something we can do to enhance this?” he asked.

Ironically, he said, the medical facility on the island that is the best equipped for emergencies is Fair Isle Animal Clinic — with the ability to take X-rays, provide anesthesia and conduct surgery on pets. Given that Vashon will be isolated in a disaster, such as the much-predicted earthquake, this is worrisome, he said.

“The animals will do just fine,” he said. “Our own species is coming up short.”

Given the range of concerns about health on the island, the group hopes to hear from islanders about their own concerns. As input comes in, Gornall said the group’s work will evolve accordingly.

“You take care of your own, and on this island, we are all our own,” he said.

Comments can be sent to or Tag Gornall at P.O. Box 1847, Vashon, WA 98070.

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