Last week, several islanders filed to run for the five open commissioner positions as part of the proposed hospital district effort, which voters will decide on in November.
Communities create such districts to deliver health care, with services tailored to their needs. Health services can range widely, from hospitals and outpatient and rehabilitative services to long-term care and ambulance services. John Jenkel, a member of the hospital district campaign called Protect Vashon Health Care, said the goal of creating a hospital district on the island is to bring available medical services into alignment with the needs of the community, including providing extended clinic office hours and light urgent care, though he cautioned those goals would not be achieved right away. The district would be able to collect Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance reimbursements and to levy a property tax, limited by state statute. Its commissioners, who would govern the district and establish its policies, would be able to assess the health care needs of the island and contract with appropriate providers and facilities to meet those needs, Jenkel said.
The filing period, last Wednesday through Friday, originally drew two candidates for each open position, but one of the candidates — for Position 2 — has withdrawn, making that race uncontested. A candidate forum will be scheduled for the fall. A public forum regarding the issue of creating a public hospital district has not been set, but several people behind the effort are continuing to offer small group meetings.
John Staczek has an extensive background in higher education, with experience as a professor as well as in managing people, building budgets and developing programs. Most recently, he served as a vice president at Thunderbird School of Global Management. For the past nine years, he has been a board member of Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union and has been the chair of the board since 2015.
Among the first tasks for commissioners, he said, will be to organize, select people for board offices, launch a community engagement effort and plan for fundraising beyond the amount that Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and levy funds would bring in.
“Sustainability, high quality and permanent funding are our goals,” he said in his candidate statement.
Commissioners will also need to look for strategic partnerships, he said, cautioning that medical providers will not be instantly swayed to come to Vashon with the passage of a public hospital district. Also important, he said, is that commissioners will need to persuade patients who left unhappy with Neighborcare or previous providers to return.
The tasks ahead will take time, he said, with the goal being developing the highest quality sustainable services possible for the benefit of islanders.
Don Wolczko owned Fair Isle Animal Clinic for 30 years and believes that his experience with the “different complexities” of running a business and his health care knowledge would be assets to the hospital district board.
The first tasks for commissioners, he said, would be to hold a public meeting and hear from people about what they feel their needs are — and then separate true needs from wants. Then commissioners would need to come up with a plan to bring another provider to the island, possibly augmenting the services of Neighborcare or another federally qualified health center. He applauded Neighborcare for coming to the island, but said he believes Vashon needs a different type of practice. Among the changes he would like to make is to move away from the call center and return to having reception on the island — a change a hospital district could potentially fund.
“A Public Hospital District, directed by experienced, fiscally responsible commissioners, is needed to assure continuance of healthcare to all on the Island, relieving those in need of many hours and added expense of going off island for even minor care,” he wrote in his candidate statement.
He believes this can be done without hurting the park district and for a cost of “two lattes a week.” This translates to a levy rate of $.41 per $1,000 of assessed home value, or $250 per year for owners of a home assessed at $500,000, he said.
Eric Pryne moved to the island six years ago after a 40-year career as a journalist, most of it at The Seattle Times. He is also the host of Island Crossroads on Voice of Vashon, where he began to learn about the challenges of local health care before CHI Franciscan left. Additionally, he has been a board member at the Vashon Community Food Bank for the past three years.
“I have a real concern about low-income people and the inconvenience of having to go off-island for even the simplest medical care,” he said.
Commissioners will need to do a “fine-grained effort” for assessing the island’s health care needs, he said, and find a way to sustain primary health care services until commissioners could assess a rate for the levy, which will not bring in funds before 2021. He believes that rate can be determined in a way that will not hurt the park district. He would like to preserve the health care the island has, he said, and restore what has been lost, noting that health care services have declined since he moved here in 2013. His suggestions include a focus on primary care, light urgent care, extended hours, more-same-day appointments and additional opportunities for walk-in care.
“You have to give taxpayers something for their money,” he said.
LeeAnn Brown has lived on the island 20 years, has been an insurance broker for that time and has helped hundreds of islanders over the last 15 years with Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance — systems so frustrating that people are often in tears in her office. Brown said she has not previously served on any boards, but feels a deep calling to run as a commissioner because of her experience in the insurance field.
She noted that all types of people live on Vashon — and all ages — and the services that the commissioners propose must truly serve all islanders.
“I care deeply that our healthcare reflects our community values and physical constraints,” she said in her candidate statement.
Like several other commissioners, she said the first steps would be to determine island health care needs and then reach out to different providers, such as the University of Washington or Multicare, and determine what are the best resources for the island that are sustainable.
“We are at the forefront of a movement to create our Vashon brand of healthcare for generations to come,” she said.
Bill West was a research fisheries biologist for 25 years and later became a lawyer. Now he is semi-retired and drives a school bus and teaches first-aid and CPR. Although he has not been involved in the medical field, he said he has had a longstanding interest in the health sciences and social issues and is “very much into public service.”
He is experienced in public policy issues, research and analysis of complex problems, and balancing competing interests. That experience, combined with the expertise of people with health care backgrounds, would be a good combination, he said.
His vision is not to recreate Seattle’s Swedish system, but to create a plan for identifying the island’s needs and determining appropriate resources and their best configuration to meet those needs.
“It’s clear that Vashon must have dependable, accessible on-island health care to remain a vibrant community. It’s equally clear that our existing health care systems are struggling, and that forming a Public Hospital District (PHD) is a powerful tool for designing and growing a robust, efficient, and cost-effective health care system focused on Island needs and resources,” he said in his candidate statement.
Dan Erin is the founder and past president of Zethcon Corporation, a software company. Now retired, he has lived on the island since 2013, and for the last five years has served on the board of Sunrise Ridge, where the Neighborcare clinic is located, and is the current board secretary.
Erin, the first candidate to file, said that the conversations around island health care have sometimes been contentious, and that as a commissioner, he would strive to be the voice of reason and bring parties together by finding and building on common ground. He noted he had experience and success with this while navigating many “big egos” in the software industry.
“I will make sure the needs of patients, medical providers, insurers and taxpayers are all considered,” he said, noting that solutions will have to be well balanced — and that the cost not be excessive.
“I am hoping we can do that without impacting taxpayers and certainly not impacting the park district,” he said. “I want to find ways to make sure we have health care on the island without excessive taxation.”
Wendy Noble, a nurse practitioner, moved to the island in 2014 and worked at the CHI Franciscan clinic and Vashon Community Care (VCC). Prior to that, her experience included working in such diverse settings as the Mayo Clinic and in rural Navajo and Alaska Native clinics.
Having spent a career in health care, she said she understands the complex issues and all the factors that need to be considered in providing care for a community.
If elected, she said she foresees a lot of information and listening sessions to hear from islanders about their health care needs.
“We want to be able to have what people feel they need and what is going to be financially responsible,” she said.
In her candidate’s statement, Noble stressed that the island is at risk of losing primary care and that such a loss can undermine the fabric of communities, as people leave and businesses close.
“As a retiree and homeowner, I understand and share the concern about taxes. However I am more concerned about what will happen to this community without a primary health care clinic. My pledge is to listen respectfully, to be fiscally responsible and to act on behalf of all Vashon residents in seeking,” she wrote.
Bonny Olney is a family practice physician, who is building a home on the island with her husband, also a physician. She learned just recently about the need for commissioners and filed to run, believing her experience and skill set could be helpful.
She practiced medicine for 20 years in Texas and now works for a billing company that does consulting work with hospitals. She also volunteers with the island’s Medical Reserve Corps.
Services provided through a hospital district should be carefully tailored to island needs, she said, noting the island has many needs, but she believes some are more critical than others. While businesses may want urgent care to draw tourists, for example, she believes it’s more important to provide services for people who cannot get off the island.
She also said a hospital district would have to be managed well and that whatever services are provided be clearly defined. Among her suggestions is the possibility of bringing in rotating specialists from a larger system, such as the University of Washington, and using technology, including telemedicine.
She cautioned that a public hospital district will not fix all the island’s health care problems.
“There are no magical solutions that will fix everything,” she said. “It will take a lot of detailed planning.”
Tom Langland is the former co-owner of the Vashon Pharmacy; he started working there as a child and remained there until he retired in 2017. Through those years, he talked with islanders about their health care needs and saw how the services changed. He believes he understands well what islanders want — and need — in their primary health care.
Those needs start with the services we have now, he said, but must be expanded: more hours, more practitioners, more semi-emergent care and appointments that can be scheduled more quickly. All these are tied to money.
“My goal is not to over fund what we have, but to use the voters’ money to increase the value and the offerings of primary care on the island and make it more convenient and accessible than it is now,” he said.
He predicts a slow start for the board of commissioners, noting that levy funds would not come in until 2021. He encouraged people to be patient as commissioners first build a structure and “assess, assess, assess.” Determining where services are now, how they got to that point and where they need to go will take up all the commissioners’ time prior to the funding becoming available, he added.
After the assessment period, Langland said looking to make sustainable improvements could begin.
“The island deserves a more sustainable, dependable health care delivery system than we have had,” he said. “I think this is the only way we are going to get it.”