During its first meeting in March, the Vashon Health Care District board of commissioners reported a number of significant developments on issues that have been in progress for weeks.
Commissioner Eric Pryne said during the March 4 gathering that although they had been courting lawmakers for $250,000 in funding from the Legislature, that money would not come through. He learned of that development after speaking with a member of the island’s state legislative delegation, Rep. Eileen Cody.
“It’s unfortunate but not surprising news,” he said. “Our legislators made a run at it, but I heard from Eileen Cody on Friday that it’s really tight. The money is not in the proposed supplemental budget. It’s a short session with very little new money to spend. The big budgets are adopted in odd years rather than in the short session in even years.”
The funds would have been a necessary help for the district this year, since it won’t be able to collect people’s property taxes until mid-2021. However, commissioners have secured a $1 million loan from King County, which they will use as needed to pay for basic operations.
Meanwhile, talks with Neighborcare Health, the Seattle-based nonprofit that operates the island’s most prominent primary care clinic, have been put on hold, Pryne said on March 4. Commissioners have pledged to keep the struggling clinic operational and have been discussing a way forward with Neighborcare for months, but the nonprofit pumped the brakes on that — for now — due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’m sure they want to get them started as soon as they possibly can, but they’re dealing with a crisis right now,” Pryne said.
For the first time, the five-member board of commissioners has a staff member. Board President Tom Langland announced that JoJo Weller, secretary for Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, will be joining the district as its administrative director — effectively the interim superintendent. Weller will begin her duties on April 1 and stay on until the board names a permanent superintendent.
“She had the advantage of 10 years in a very similar role at our own fire station and because of the very demanding 40-plus hours a week, she just happened to be wanting to be scaling back,” Langland said. “She needs to make a gradual, comfortable get away from the fire department … so we’re letting her depart in a graceful fashion.”
In an interview Weller said that while the secretary position with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue has been her favorite job, the administrative director role is “a part-time, interim, flexible job that I need at this time in my life.”
“The board still makes the major decisions. I am just helping them along with processes,” Weller said.
Weller’s job will include taking meeting minutes, maintaining district records, receiving and responding to public record requests, scan documents, retrieve mail and electronic correspondence and maintain the district’s website — which was also unveiled at the March 4 meeting. The address is vashonhealthcare.org.
Weller has attended several of the Vashon Health Care District’s meetings — which have excited her.
“I attended those meetings just out of curiosity,” she said. “Just the joy of seeing a new government form — I know some people think that’s crazy, but I thought it was exciting.”
Since they’ve found an administrative director, the commissioners are turning their attention to searching for a permanent superintendent. Commissioner Wendy Noble announced the formation of a search committee, which will be comprised of district board members and islanders with a health care and consulting background.
“What we will be looking for is somebody who will basically serve as the executive administrator of the board itself,” Noble said. “Not just doing the office stuff but helping us to look at negotiating contracts, dealing with external agencies, doing ongoing needs assessments; will be the person who is the primary representative of the board in communicating with our provider, who ever that is.”
Noble said the ideal person to fill the position will need to have a wealth of experience.
“So we’ll be looking for someone with a high degree of experience in management and administration … as well as, ideally, some health care experience,” she said.
Noble urged the search to start soon.
“We can’t function without a superintendent for very long,” she said.
At the most recent district meeting — which occurred March 11, after The Beachcomber’s press deadline — commissioners met to hear from Portland-based consultant Joe Kunkel, who had helped the Vashon-Maury Island Health Collaborative some years ago. Kunkel was retained by the district to come up with a strategy, mainly on how to negotiate with a future health care provider.