As soon as King County Councilmember Joe McDermott was done administering the oath of office to the new board of commissioners of the Vashon Health Care District, members of the public responded more like they were at a rock concert than a Wednesday night board meeting.
Community members gave the five commissioners — Eric Pryne, Don Wolczko, LeeAnn Brown, Wendy Noble and Tom Langland — a standing ovation and some whooping were heard, too, in the lobby of the Vashon Center for the Arts on Dec. 4.
And with that, the board sat down and got down to business.
“Somebody needs to call the meeting to order, officially, so I guess I will,” Pryne said.
The board made a number of decisions at its first meeting, most notably changing the district’s name. The Vashon-Maury Island Hospital District was renamed the Vashon Health Care District so residents don’t get the impression the board is working to create an actual hospital on the island.
Commissioners agreed that regular meetings would take place from 7 to 9 p.m. every Wednesday — at least in the immediate future — in the social room of the Vashon Presbyterian Church. If a meeting cannot take place on those days, commissioners will meet on Thursday.
And, as part of some of the housekeeping agenda items approved on Wednesday, Langland was elected president of the board and Wolczko was named its secretary.
Setting up a hospital district
The bulk of the meeting involved professional training from the Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts and Municipal Research and Services Center.
Before the session began Matt Ellsworth, executive director of the AWPHD, gave brief remarks about hospital districts and the importance of islanders’ decision in establishing one.
“Being a public hospital district is something special,” he said. “Any company can open a hospital, but only the voters can create a hospital district. What that means and what you have done in this community is you’ve worked hard, raised your hand and you put your names on the ballots to say, ‘We want to do something different.’”
Ellsworth introduced Oskar Rey, the legal counsel for MRSC, who provided the training session for commissioners. Rey touched on a vast array of topics regarding the functions of a hospital district and the board’s duties, as stated in RCW 70.44, which outlines the powers and provisions of hospital districts.
“The main thing to really keep in mind about hospital districts is that they’re a type of special-purpose district. Unlike cities or counties, which has general municipal powers, special purpose districts are created for a specific purpose,” Rey said. “In this case, it’s providing hospital and health and wellness-type of services.”
Rey outlined some of the initial steps the commissioners will take, including hiring an interim superintendent — an official temporarily charged with carrying out the same district administrative duties of a full-time superintendent while the board searches for one.
“There’s not a specific state law requirement for exactly how you contract for those services,” Rey said. “From a good governance standpoint, what you would want to do is potentially have an RFP or an RFQ that ensures you get a good applicant pool for candidates for that type of position.”
Commissioners could also adopt a “plan of improvements” for the district, but Rey said state law is not particularly clear on this.
“I think a public hospital district should both understand the needs of the district and once it understands those needs, it needs to have a plan for how it’s going to implement and meet those needs,” Rey said. “But a hospital district has the flexibility to decide what those plans are going to look like and there are no requirements in state law that specify how you have to go about making that plan.”
Rey said contract negotiations with such providers would not be subject to the Open Public Meetings Act if those discussions are carried out by district staff but would be if it were done by a quorum of the commissioners (three members). Records generated by provider negotiations are subject to the state open records law unless an exemption applies, he said.
The deadline for adopting a 2020 budget has passed, and the district will not be able to collect property taxes until 2021 when the commissioners are able to set a levy rate. However, Rey told The Beachcomber, “the district can adopt a budget showing anticipated operating expenses for 2020 and request a short term loan from King County until revenues kick in.”
After the training, Noble told meeting attendees she was glad some people stayed for the entire meeting because “it helps you to get an appreciation for how much work we have to do.”
Members of the community who showed up for the meeting had good things to say about the commissioners and the workings of a public hospital district.
John Jenkel, who was part of the Protect Vashon Health Care, the campaign that was instrumental in passing a hospital district, attended the meet and said on behalf of the campaign he was, “pleased to see the showing of community support for the commissioners and the district.”
Marian Brischle said she supports a public hospital district and she will attend meetings.
“It was a very good start,” she said. “The questions that had been submitted, apparently, for answer by the visiting expert, were good questions — things that people would be interested in knowing about. I thought it was interesting.”
Brischle said Wednesday’s meeting gave her confidence establishing a hospital district was the right thing to do.
“Absolutely, and I think we have an excellent set of commissioners, too,” she said. “I’m quite comfortable.”
Another islander, Fran Brooks, who used to own a medical practice, said when the hospital district measure passed in November, she knew she wanted to come to the first board meeting.
“I think it’s important it get off in the right direction,” Brooks said. “(The meeting) was nothing too profound, but it was well done.”
She wants to see the commissioners come up with a needs assessment that tells them what islanders want in health care services.
“A needs assessment is actually a professional job — it takes a lot of skill to get the right questions and come up with answers that are useful,” Brooks said.
She wants to make sure the needs assessment is carried out professionally.
“Yes, I intend to help,” she said. “I know people who are experts in this who want to help.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Pryne asked the public for input as the health care district gets underway.
“As we move forward, we’re going to need your support, we’re going to need your help,” he said. “There’s a lot of expertise on this island we hope to draw on, so please stay engaged.”