Health Care District president says commissioners are ‘learning by doing’

The comments come after three islanders questioned if board is following procedures

Commissioners with the Vashon Health Care District said last week they would stick with their plan to consider just one consultant and not others, despite some islanders who questioned whether the board was following procedures that are required of many public agencies.

Eric Pryne told community members at the Feb. 12 meeting that he came to a conclusion that circulating a request for proposals would not be needed after speaking with the district’s attorney as well as one with the Municipal Research Services Center, the organization that trains officials of numerous public entities on how to do their jobs.

“First of all, all the authorities we consulted said there is no requirement that we put this out for an RFP, that the law is really silent on a contract like this, which is classified as a personal services contract, where the product and activity is largely intellectual in nature,” Pryne said during the meeting.

“While the MRSC does encourage governments to go through a competitive process, it’s not required and I think there are circumstances here that make sense for us to go directly and retain a consultant without that.”

The consultant Pryne was referring to is Joe Kunkel, owner/president of The Healthcare Collaborative Group in Portland, Ore. Kunkel would be helpful in not just aiding in the district’s discussions with potential health care providers, but in “developing and executing a plan to maintain sustainable, quality primary care on Vashon in 2020 and beyond,” Pryne told the newspaper. Kunkel will submit a proposal and the board will review it before making a decision on whether to retain him. Such a decision requires full board approval.

Kunkel was recommended to commissioners in part because he provided consulting to the Vashon-Maury Island Healthcare Collaborative a few years ago, when it was trying to work with Franciscan Health after the organization indicated it would no longer occupy a clinic on the island. The Collaborative would go on to play a major role in getting the initiative that established the hospital district to pass last year.

The Beachcomber reached out to Kunkel, who said he wasn’t sure how much he could say on potential engagement with the district, but said he thought he could help commissioners “navigate short and long-term planning.”

Pryne’s comments on Feb. 12 about the consultant came after commissioners back-tracked on an earlier decision to ask Kunkel to draw up a proposal. Pause on the part of the district came after three residents contacted commissioners, asking them if an RFP process should be followed, Pryne informed The Beachcomber in an email.

“We paused the process to look into the question – as we gear up, we’re still learning a lot on the fly,” Pryne wrote. “While we chose to stick with our original plan, we always appreciate input from community members.”

The MRSC website’s page on personal services contracts appears to support what Pryne said. Personal services involves “technical expertise provided by a consultant to accomplish a specific study, project, task, or other work” that are “mostly intellectual in nature,” according to website.

Further, only port and facilities districts have statutory requirements to obtain personal services contracts, and other local governments do not, the website states.

The personal services contracts page on the MRSC website outlines, too, what elements would be contained in a request for proposals — a multipage document drafted by government agencies to potential contractors. The document lets them know the deadline to submit a proposal, how they will be evaluated, the scope of the project the agency is requesting proposals for, and a schedule to execute the project.

Given the complexities of RFPs and procurement, Pryne told commissioners at the Feb. 12 meeting that it’s not worth the effort, especially if the district doesn’t have to go through with it.

“In an ideal situation, we would have procurement policies and procurement manuals all ready to go,” Pryne said. “But that would take time and we don’t have it.”

The district is expected to do a lot in a short amount of time, he added. Those to-do items conducting a survey gauging islanders on their health care needs; passing a budget for 2021; and letting King County know how much property tax revenue the district might take from a levy that same year.

“We’re looking at a really compressed schedule and we should start now instead of sitting,” Pryne said.

Commissioner Wendy Noble responded that retaining a consultant is much like retaining legal counsel, and the district did not put out an RFP for that person.

Procedural hurdles

The consultant issue was not the first time the five-member Vashon Health Care District board, sworn in this past December to oversee the island’s health care needs, has faced criticism from community members over their decisions.

That was true a few weeks ago, when the commissioners discussed the number of candidates that had applied to be interim superintendent — an official who would be the chief administrative officer temporarily while the board looks to fill the position full-time.

During the meeting, one commissioner, LeeAnn Brown, said she was looking forward to interviewing candidates who lived on the island. But Patricia Haley, an island resident and former health care consultant who regularly attends the meetings, advised her not to show preference towards any particular candidate.

The five district commissioners — Brown, Pryne, Tom Langland, Don Wolzcko and Wendy Noble — have received training from the MRSC ever since their first public meeting on Dec. 4 of last year.

Oskar Rey, an MRSC legal consultant who led that training, was asked by The Beachcomber about the board’s recent decision to go forward and retain a consultant without an RFP, said In the absence of statutory requirements, it is up to the District to determine how best to contract for services.”

“ I am not in a position to second-guess the District’s decision,” he wrote.

Asked what he thought of the incidents islanders raised to the commissioners as a potential problem, Matthew Ellsworth, the executive director of the Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts, wrote in an email that “how they came to the conclusion to staff and manage the district is a question that is best answered by the Commissioners.”

Ellsworth also spoke of his organization’s mission in helping districts like the island’s.

“Our role at AWPHD is to provide support to all our members on the public aspects of their unique organizations. It is incumbent on each PHD to execute their responsibilities in accordance with Washington State Laws,” Ellsworth wrote. “Our partners at Vashon are navigating a new process to their community, with that comes new ideas and new challenges. I am confident the Vashon commissioners are committed to doing it right and within the proper legal framework.”

Vashon Health Care District board President Tom Langland said he is satisfied with the progress of the district.

“I knew, going in, that there would be a steep learning curve in this totally new government process,” he wrote in an email to the newspaper. While we may be ‘learning by doing’ in some regards, we have greatly benefited from essential advice from MRSC, as well as from many well informed islanders. We have a wealth of local expertise willingly offered.”

Langland added, “While I am hesitant to ‘grade’ our board yet, I am encouraged by our progress on multiple fronts. We are working daily in a deliberate manner and resisting the urge to rush ahead without a solid foundation.”