We have been expecting the latest health care news for some time now: The Vashon-Maury Health Collaborative is moving forward with the goal of creating a hospital district.
In the coming months, islanders will be hearing more about the potential benefits, drawbacks and complexities of creating such a district, and it is important that all voting-age residents — not simply patients at the longtime clinic — be part of this community conversation.
Islanders first voted on creating a hospital district in 2006; the measure was soundly defeated, but the island’s health care landscape looks much different now than it did then. The number of clinics has dwindled; we have weathered the painful transitions of CHI Franciscan and, initially, the hopeful transition to Neighborcare, when it appeared as though it might save the day. That relief was short lived: Neighborcare CEO Michael Erikson has said the organization is losing $350,000 per year and needs the island to come up with a solution for sustainable health care this year. And, as became clear in the wake of the CHI Franciscan departure, no other provider is willing to come to the island simply to lose money.
It is difficult to imagine the effects both on individuals and the broader community that losing the Sunrise Ridge clinic would create. But there is more to consider.
Washington State property tax laws are considered to be among the most complicated in the nation. Those laws — and the limits they impose — are important to understand as we weigh how to vote. As the story on page one indicates, the Vashon Park District could lose a considerable amount of its revenue with the creation of a hospital district. The full picture is not yet clear because of the many variables involved, including how much assessed property values go up or down and the amount of money hospital district commissioners might determine would be necessary to fund health services. But the risk to the park district —and many members of the community who rely on its properties — is real, and hospital district commissioners will need to be extremely mindful of that risk if the hospital district measure passes.
Looking ahead, we expect to vote on the measure in November, and we hope to see a well qualified slate of candidates run for the hospital district commissioner positions. As part of that process, we trust there will be extensive discussions about the anticipated costs of sustaining health care on the island — and preserving park district funding.
For now, we suggest islanders look for the collaborative’s petition this week and in the weeks to come, talk to the volunteers asking people to sign, and plan to attend public meetings about the hospital district in the future. And, for those who have the skillset and interest, consider running for commissioner. Also, feel free to stop by the park district or attend one of its public meetings to ask questions about its concerns.
The hospital district topic is an extremly important one for the island. We hope many islanders will participate in the community conversation about it in the months to come.