Come election day, Vashon-Maury Islanders will have the chance to not only vote on whether there would be a public hospital district, but who will make up the board of commissioners that will oversee it.
There are ten candidates on the ballot, although one of them, William Swartz, has said he is not running. This means voters will choose among nine candidates and elect five of them to serve. They would have staggered terms.
The candidates appeared at a public forum on Oct. 10, their only public appearance together. In the closing week of the election, The Beachcomber asked each of them to make a closing argument as to why a hospital district is needed and what they feel would be their most important contribution as a member of the board.
One candidate, Donald Wolczko, was contacted for this story, but he could not be reached by deadline. Instead, The Beachcomber has chosen to run his statement on the King County Election website.
The following are their responses:
If the ballot passes, Vashon-Maury Islands will have a long-awaited public hospital district. Our elected commissioners will work with the community to plan, design, create and maintain mechanisms to deliver the district with community funding. This will require us to be united in our goals. Yes, while it may be a reach for some in additional taxes, this is our historic moment for the island. We will create our voice for our health care, and together, we will be the stewards of our future.
My contribution is simple: I believe in building a legacy to help create a stable, sound and sustainable commission for the district that will continue the outstanding work of the Vashon-Maury Health Collaborative that brought us to this moment. The commission will require our finest thinking on needs and wants, knowledge, networking, partnering and financing.
Let’s build it. Now. Together.
I am Don Wolczko, a veterinarian who had owned a thriving practice for 30 years, employing and directing 20 workers. During that time, I had observed deterioration in human health care on the island, where the increasing need for supplemental support outstripped the heroic efforts of Granny’s Attic funding.
A public hospital district, directed by experienced, fiscally responsible commissioners, is needed to assure continuance of health care to all on the island, relieving those in need of many hours and the added expense of going off-island for even minor care; as an island, we can do this without injuring other entities and with a cost of two lattes a week. I ask for your trust and vote to help us succeed in keeping and enhancing health care for all on the island.
I consider the vote on the proposed hospital district a referendum on what kind of community we want to be.
One-third of Vashon households live on less than $50,000 a year. These are the folks who would be hit hardest if there’s no clinic on the island.
Because of the cost of a ferry ride, or time away from work, or infirmity, traveling over town for primary care will be a genuine hardship for many. Some won’t go to the doctor as often as they should. Some won’t go at all.
That means some will get sick, or sicker. Researchers have documented a link between poor geographic access to primary care and many negative health consequences — more otherwise-preventable hospitalizations or more late diagnosis of breast cancer.
On Vashon, we like to believe we care about each other. Let’s show it by voting to provide our neighbors with accessible primary care.
I dialogue with hundreds of Vashon residents each year and I hear their emotional pain around not being able to, or not willing to, use the primary clinic on the island. The hospital district is a tool to fix this problem.
This is a change for the island, and as a homeowner, I get your financial concerns. But if we trust our best friends of the four-legged type to Dr. Don Wolczko, and we are willing to trust Tom Langland to supply and counsel us on life-saving prescriptions, shouldn’t we be able to trust them with a few hundred dollars per household to improve our medical options in our beloved community?
I’m suggesting I would be a good addition to the commissioners because of my ongoing experience working with thousands of our community members and discussing their health care needs. I’d be the “present-time-user advocate.”
Vashon must create a public hospital district for the following reasons:
The island must have a medical clinic, capable of accepting walk-ins and offering light urgent care, to serve our residents and sustain the diversity and long-term vitality of our community;
Potential health care providers will not operate such a clinic here without a guarantee of stable financial support and a strong institutional partner; and a PHD is the best way available to provide such support and partnership, especially since it provides accountable local control to tailor such services to our unique needs and resources.
As a PHD commissioner, I offer years of experience: Analyzing complex multi-party situations and crafting mutually satisfying solutions, mediating among varied constituencies and interests; understanding and applying the laws and regulations governing public entities; and drafting, negotiating and administering public-private contracts.
If the hospital district is not approved, we may lose our only clinic. The worst effect of that is that many people will defer preventative care rather than go off-island.
It is my intention that the voices and thoughts of all affected groups are heard and that the needs of all are considered — patients, medical providers, insurers and taxpayers. As Commissioner Dan Erin, my specific contributions will be to find the common ground among the ideas presented and to keep the commissioners focused on the immediate goal of maintaining and improving primary care on the island. I will make certain that the benefits to patients compare favorably to the cost to taxpayers.
This election is not about “saving” Neighborcare or defunding other districts; it is our opportunity to create a new model — our own Vashon community clinic for all ages and incomes, with care for both chronic diseases, acute illnesses and injuries. This will be a medical safety net for those who find off-island travel difficult, and those who want to have care close to home for their families. It will reflect the Vashon commitment to “community” that makes it a good place to live.
This month I talked to many people in homes and at public events. I heard questions, enthusiasm and uncertainty about this new proposition. My health care background has helped me to provide informed responses. If elected, I will use that experience to bridge the concerns and needs of Vashon residents and the complex issues of health care delivery we will have to navigate and negotiate.
The hospital district will provide a legal and legitimate commission that can negotiate in good faith with providers to find an arrangement that reliably delivers the care our island needs. While some have said we can “just go off-island” for care, they do not consider the burden of the journey for an elderly person in pain or a baby with a high fever. We can’t go to any entity asking them to come in exchange for the promise that we will raise donations to supplement their losses. It’s time for a better way. I can only speak for myself, but I would never create an arrangement that diverts tax money from our parks. And, whether or not I am elected to the commission I will offer my knowledge of running a medical practice and negotiating with healthcare entities to create a fiscally responsible plan.
Unless we pass our local hospital district measure, Vashon Island will soon be without an accessible community clinic. The general health of our community is at stake, for your family and mine.
Health care evolved tremendously during my career at Vashon Pharmacy and some of those recent evolutions here at home have been troubling. My 40 years of experience, including thousands of face-to-face interactions with my neighbors and time spent in tough and tense negotiations with suppliers and insurance companies, will serve the island well if I am elected.
I am lucky to have lived on Vashon my entire life, surrounded by family. My 88-year-old mother, three of my adult children and their families live here, along with my wife Mary and me. We all have different health care needs; passing this PHD into law will give your family and mine a voice in deciding the nature and extent of our primary care options.
What is a hospital district?
Under Washington state law, public hospital districts are intended to own and operate hospitals and other health care facilities, delivering health care services tailored to the needs of the community they are established in.
Services provided by public hospital districts can range widely, from hospitals and outpatient and rehabilitative services to long-term care and ambulance services.
They are created with a simple majority vote by an election. Separately, voters must also choose to elect the commissioners who will represent the district if one is approved and formed. There are five volunteer commissioner positions on the November ballot. Their initial terms would vary, from one to six years.
If formed, the district would be able to collect Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance reimbursements and to levy a property tax, limited by state statute.
Public hospital districts are subject to all state laws related to transparency and open government, including the Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Records Act.
There are currently three public hospital districts in King County, in Renton (UW Medicine/Valley Medical Center,) Kirkland (EvergreenHealth) and Snoqualmie (Snoqualmie Valley Hospital).