Health care on Vashon: A step in the right direction | Editorial

For years, social service advocates have been concerned about the kind of access low-income residents have to health care on Vashon.

They’d hear accounts of people turned away from the Vashon Health Center because they lacked either insurance or the resources to cover the costs of a visit. But invariably, these accounts would get bogged down in conflicting details. And as a result, it often wasn’t clear if the promise of the relationship between Granny’s Attic and the health center — that by shopping at Granny’s, customers were providing the funds to cover the costs of unmet health care needs on Vashon — was being fulfilled.

Now, we know. Thanks to a modest but innovative effort, Granny’s will give Vashon Youth & Family Service’s VIVA program enough cash to cover the costs of 20 vouchers a quarter — coupons worth $250 that a recipient can use for routine visits to the health center.

The health center, which operates on a thin margin, will do its part, too, reducing the bill it charges for those visits by 20 percent, an effort to make these new vouchers stretch as far as possible.

Granny’s is putting just $20,000 a year into the effort — about 10 percent of what it hands out each year in grants to address health care needs on Vashon. But it’s an important step and a symbolic one.

It will give a handful of Islanders much-needed access to health care. It addresses an issue many of Granny’s shoppers care about — ensuring a direct relationship between dollars spent at the thriving thrift shop and access for those without resources to health care. It also seems like a program that’s been structured thoughtfully.

VIVA manager Debbie Rieschl is well-positioned to know who needs this kind of support on the Island as well as what other kinds of services are available — both on and off Island — to those with a range of medical needs. By giving the funds for the program to VIVA, Granny’s is exercising a smart collaboration.

Granny’s gives considerably more money than this $20,000 grant to the health center each year. Of the $200,000 it hands out in grants these days, about half is used to support the health center — defraying costs for new equipment and paying a portion of its monthly operating expenses.

This program adds an important new element. Coupled with the revitalization of the Community Wellness Project, where volunteers who perform community service can, in exchange, receive discounted health care goods and services, we’re seeing a meaningful dent in Vashon’s unmet medical need.

At the same time, adequate health care is still out of reach to many, due to a number of complex factors. It’s noteworthy that this program has come online at the same time that the Obama administration’s historic effort at health care reform is being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. What’s more, this new program is not for everyone. It will cover the costs of preventative care and follow up for chronic issues, not urgent medical needs, lab work or services provided by specialists.

There’s a still a world of need. Access to health care should be a fundamental right, and for many on Vashon it’s not within reach. But this small program is a creative idea and a step in the right direction, and we’re encouraged that a handful of enterprising women found a way to make it happen.


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