Last week in this space, we encouraged people not to give up on the ferry system, but to stay engaged and attend tonight’s meeting regarding possible schedule changes. Now, we are sharing the same message — the importance of speaking up, listening and being involved — regarding health care on the island.
It is rare that two such important meetings are back to back, in the last week of August, no less, and we cannot even begin to pick which one is the most important. We believe everyone who can attend both should do so.
The Vashon-Maury Health Collaborative is hosting a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Vashon Senior Center. It will be the first in a series of three meetings about creating sustainable health care on the island. This one will be focused on Neighborcare, and Neighborcare officials will be there to share information, and we trust, listen as well.
Two years ago there was excitement about Neighborcare coming in, and there was a considerable hope that because Neighborcare is a Federally Qualified Health Center, the Sunrise Ridge clinic would be financially stable in a way that it had not been under other providers. Many islanders dug deep into their pockets to support Neighborcare when asked, and many of us moved our medical records, hoping the clinic would, in fact, take care of us and our loved ones when we needed the help.
Certainly, many of us have been well taken care of there. But lately, it has felt a bit like operations at the clinic are unraveling a bit, with a frequently frustrating phone service, sometimes long waits for appointments, the forced departure of two doctors and the abrupt departure of another provider, who will be joining Vashon Natural Medicine this fall. As the old saying goes, the bloom is off the rose.
Neighborcare’s CEO has said the agency has no plans to leave Vashon, but he has also said that all Neighborcare clinics must break even — a goal the Vashon clinic is falling far short of. It is hard to know what the future holds.
For many islanders — including the high numbers of people who commute each day — losing adequate health care on the island might not seem like much of a problem, as off-island clinics and providers are not hard to come by. But in this situation, we must think of the whole community, including those with serious health problems, who routinely need access to quality health care, sometimes with little warning.
No doubt many of us would rather be school shopping or enjoying a late summer walk on the beach during the evenings this week, but, if possible, let’s take a rain check on those wishes and focus on the task at hand: taking the first steps to understanding the island’s health care picture and, hopefully, working to create a model that is sustainable for years to come.