A consultant hired by the Vashon Health Care District told the board of commissioners the coronavirus pandemic could make it more difficult for them to shop for potential primary care providers that could establish a clinic on the island.
That was one of the first things Joe Kunkel, president of a Portland-based firm called The Healthcare Collaborative, told board members on March 11, when he was invited to give a presentation that night.
Kunkel was there to guide the board through the ins and outs of crafting a request for proposal, a document meant to tell potential providers — be it UW or Tacoma-based MultiCare, for example — about the island and its health care needs in order to solicit proposals from them. The island’s biggest provider, Seattle-based nonprofit Neighborcare Health, has struggled to maintain a clinic on the island, making it unlikely it will stay here for long.
Kunkel was clear in establishing the backdrop commissioners will find themselves against as they look to find a new health care provider for the island.
“I will tell you there’s a fluid world we’re in today with things going on. We’re facing a serious challenge in terms of timelines and primarily because the people we’re going to want to talk to surrounding RFPs are busy and preoccupied — and rightfully so — with this coronavirus,” Kunkel said.
That preoccupation means it is likely going to be “very difficult just to get their attention to focus on this,” according to the Portland consultant – to say nothing of the work that will need to be done to transition that provider into the island when an agreement is reached.
His comments came during a week on the island that saw an increasing number of island businesses and organizations scale back or cancel operations and activities in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, of which King County has been the U.S. epicenter of. Even Neighborcare has halted discussions of its future with the Vashon Health Care District because, as one commissioner said, they’re in the midst of dealing with a public health crisis.
But in an interview after the meeting, Kunkel said even with the coronavirus outbreak looming large, he’d like the Vashon Health Care District to name a provider by late summer.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re going to wait. It just means we’re saying it’s going to take 30 days to get an RFP back; it might go to 45,” he said. “We’re going to have to be more diligent.”
Commissioner Wendy Noble, a retired nurse practitioner, told The Beachcomber she agreed with Kunkel that coronavirus is a concern in meeting the district’s objective in finding a new health care provider.
“Healthcare systems all over the country are overwhelmed preparing to respond to an exponential growth in cases, she wrote. “We do not know what the impact will be on our search, and we have little control over this evolving situation. We are going to proceed as planned and hope that we find a medical system that will be a good partner for us.”
She said the board would like to be ready to issue the RFP by mid-April, giving the potential providers a month to respond.
Kunkel explained to the board that, in order to attract a primary care provider to the island, sending out a request for proposal is at least one way to achieve that — even if it’s a process that is not necessary by state statute.
“But I think we all agree it’s the right thing to do in terms of being transparent and setting up a process to cast a wide net when we start thinking about a long-term solution for the island,” Kunkel told board members.
An excellent RFP for providers — which would include everything from information about the island’s demographics to the district’s “vision of care” — would entice them to tell commissioners exactly what health care would look like on the island if they were in operation there.
“We’re taking it from the objective black and white to we need to tell the story,” Kunkel said. “RFPs are not just something you fill out; it’s a marketing tool.”
Tasked with assembling that RFP would be a committee — comprised of a few board members and island residents — that is also tasked with recommending to the full board of commissioners which primary care provider it should choose for long term care.
The committee would not be alone in assembling the document; it would include Kunkel’s expertise.
“I need a group like this to help me make this a Vashon RFP,” he said.
Noble agreed with Kunkel that an RFP is needed to find the right health care provider.
“It will be important to provide a clear picture of what Vashon’s needs are, and what an organization would be asked to provide,” she wrote. “It is important that there are no misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations on the part of either party.”
Editor’s note: this story does not appear in The Beachcomber’s print edition.