I am a member of the Vashon Rotary Club, and several weeks ago we had the Vashon Maury Health Collaborative (VMHC) deliver a program on Vashon’s upcoming vote for a Public Hospital District (PHD). Tom Langland, a retired Vashon Pharmacy owner, described the history of the VMHC. Incorporated in 2013, the group has been working to find a sustainable health care solution for our community.
Primary care has never been self-supporting. Neighborcare Health, the current provider, continues to lose money, as have all the previous Vashon clinic providers. Our clinic’s deficits are being subsidized by other Neighborcare clinics serving low-income residents in Seattle. If the island steps up to assist with provider losses on an ongoing basis, Neighborcare will work with us. While Neighborcare has every intention of helping the island, without community financial support, it cannot sustain these losses indefinitely and is unlikely to be willing to carry the burden into yet another fiscal year. We have this year, 2019, to solve the problem.
Langland went on to describe VMHC’s efforts in educating Vashon and Maury islanders about this issue by holding informational meetings in homes. I held one in my home on May 2nd and urge you to do the same. It is very important for all of us to ask questions, voice our opinions and learn about the meetings and work that has taken place over the past two years. If you have a group that would welcome a presentation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some facts I learned from the Rotary presentation and meeting in my home:
1. VMHC has submitted enough local signatures requesting formation and funding for a Public Hospital District to be placed on the November ballot. Note: the name “public hospital district” is misleading. That is the term required by law, though no hospital is planned. This is a health care district.
2. At the same time, islanders will have the opportunity to vote on individual candidates for the five commissioner positions who will administer the PHD. Selection is based on those receiving the highest number of votes. Commissioner candidates are all local residents. Optimally, voters vote for the commissioners that have the best skill sets/qualifications for analyzing and moving forward with the plan for sustainable health care, as opposed to a person who might run as a proponent of some singular point of view or agenda.
3. The role of commissioners is key. They are charged with assessing the needs of the island they represent. VMHC’s meetings have made it clear that there is a need and desire for “light” urgent care and primary care on a sustainable basis. The actual amount levied is decided by the commissioners. The provider(s) to best meet the island’s needs are also engaged by our commissioners.
4. You may already seek your care through Kaiser, University of Washington or another off-island provider and may not think that this issue impacts you. Failure to implement a hospital district will result in the closure of the island’s only medical clinic for all islanders. Without sustainable funding, NO other provider will have any reason to come to the island. Studies show that areas that have lost health care suffer serious consequences. Community membership changes as groups that require more frequent care (young families, older retired individuals) are forced to relocate. School enrollment numbers drop. Local businesses suffer as employees are lost when they seek employment in areas with available health care rather than take hours or a full day to go to an off-island provider. Ultimately, property values are impacted.
Health care is a vital component of island life. We learned a lot — and I hope you will do as I did and invite the VMHC to come and speak with you.
— Amy Huggins is a Vashon resident since 1993, yoga teacher since 1998, incoming Vashon Rotary president 2020, and previous board member of Vashon Allied Arts and Vashon-Maury Land Trust.