Two recent Beachcomber articles on the Vashon health clinic dilemma beg comment. In one, John Jenkel’s response to Hillary Emmer would have you believe that the grannies, 45 years ago, “took the tiller” and controlled how health care for our community is structured. Well — not quite accurate. The second article detailed the latest “health and well being” awards made by Granny’s Attic and indicated that some $300,000 is an approximate total available annually to the community from Granny’s Attic.
For starters, John Jenkel and Tim Johnson deserve thanks, not criticism, for the effort they (and others) have made over the past several years in addressing the problems at the health center. I attended the last meeting they held, and they’ve assembled lots of information, statistics and comparisons in trying to address our primary care dilemma. And, while I agree that the servicing and funding of primary health care have changed drastically and has gotten much more challenging in the last couple of decades, I’m not convinced that the solution for Vashon is another taxing district.
Historically, here’s a summary of what’s happened over the years (longer written histories are available): After watching several doctors leave or retire, a group of very dedicated volunteers (including Opal and Leo Montague, Dorothy Johnson and many, many others), formed Vashon-Maury Health Services Center, a private non-profit corporation, and opened a clinic in a small Burton home. Within a few years, and as the volunteer staff gave way to employed staff, many of these same volunteers organized themselves into a separate nonprofit called Health Center Volunteers, Inc. After a few random rummage sales, it was decided a thrift shop would serve to raise money for the clinic, and in June 1975, Granny’s Attic opened for business.
By 1978, both organizations had outgrown their respective spaces, so the Health Services Center (now Sunrise Ridge Health Services) and the Health Center Volunteers (DBA Granny’s Attic) were able to secure space at the old Nike missile site where, again, many volunteers contributed time, energy and money to renovate the old buildings into usable space. For the next 20 or so years, Vashon-Maury Health Services Center operated and managed the clinic, and Granny’s Attic supplied necessary funding. But then the funding problems began, and outside health care organizations, first Highline Medical Group from Burien, then CHI Franciscan from Tacoma (by acquiring Highline) and now Neighborcare Health agreed to operate our clinic.
More could be told about the various health center operators, but enough history; my point is this: In one way or another, our community has managed to keep a clinic in operation for almost 50 years through much volunteering, fundraising and a very successful thrift store operation. Private funding, some $350,000 or so, was raised to subsidize Neighborcare’s first two years of operation. Granny’s Attic generates almost that amount every year. Am I missing something? Could Granny’s Attic fund all of the subsidy needed by Neighborcare (or any other clinic operator?) It used to be that way — why not now? It just seems to me that a combination of a targeted annual fundraising drive and full funding from Granny’s Attic would be adequate to cover clinic operating losses. In addition, the $3,000,000 state capital spending grant to Neighborcare/Vashon would go a long way toward improving our current inadequate and aging clinic.
Unfortunately, we don’t have enough population to support an urgent care facility, even though most of us certainly would like one here. Also, I’m skeptical that another referendum on a hospital district would do any better than the last one did. And the Neighborcare model as a Federally Qualified Health Center doesn’t necessarily fit Vashon’s patient and/or health insurance profile. But with the volunteer mindset of this community; with a strong annual fundraising effort; with adequate support from Granny’s Attic, and with the current, unique assistance of Neighborcare Health, can’t we continue to make primary health care work here?
— Charlie Peterson is a former board member and treasurer of Sunrise Ridge Health Services.