Almost a month after islanders overwhelmingly voted to establish a public hospital district, the board of commissioners, tasked with making decisions about islanders’ health care services, has scheduled its first meeting.
Commissioner-elect Eric Pryne told The Beachcomber on Tuesday the 5-member board would be sworn in and formally meet at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 4 in the Vashon Center for the Arts lobby.
“It’s the first step in a long journey,” Pryne said with a laugh. “We have an awful lot to do.”
King County Councilman Joe McDermott will swear in the commissioners — Pryne, Tom Langland, LeeAnn Brown, Wendy Noble and Don Wolczko — before they sit down to discuss “very preliminary housekeeping actions,” according to Pryne. The full agenda he sent to The Beachcomber on Tuesday said commissioners would elect a president and secretary of the board; discuss and potentially change the district’s name; discuss and potentially set regular meetings’ date, time and place; and hold a “Q&A” with the executive director of the Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts and an attorney with the Municipal Research and Services Center.
Though details have not been entirely nailed down, regular board meetings will likely occur every week for the “foreseeable future,” Pryne said.
The frequency of such meetings, Pryne noted, will stand in contrast to other special-purpose districts on the island, which “are better established and have systems in place.”
“We do not — this is all springing from nothing,” he said. “We are setting up — as I said before — a tiny government from scratch. At this point, we have no staff, we have no money, we have no place to meet, we have no office.”
According to the Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts’ legal manual, the initial actions of a hospital district include electing a president and secretary; establishing bylaws; and adopting a seal.
Pryne said changing the district’s name would be a priority for the commissioners during the first meeting because Vashon-Maury Island will never establish a physical hospital; instead, health care here will continue to come through the form of clinics.
Bigger ticket items the commissioners must consider, according to the legal manual, including passing a budget; conducting a survey to “determine the health care needs of district residents”; adopting a plan based on those survey results; and appointing a superintendent to oversee administration of the district.
But for now, the commissioners are focused on “housekeeping actions,” Pryne said, which includes training. Matt Ellsworth, the executive director of the AWPHD and Oskar Rey, an attorney from the MRSC — the organization the AWPHD contracts with to provide hospital districts with legal advice — have agreed to come to the island’s first hospital district meeting to fulfill this requirement.
“Any time the five of us meet, with a few exceptions, it has to be in open public session,” Pryne said. “Besides that, I like the idea of the citizens of the island learning as we learn about what we’re supposed to be doing and the laws that are supposed to be followed.”
Ellsworth wrote in a prepared statement to The Beachcomber that his organization is “excited to be a part of Vashon PHD starting off on the right foot.”
“The Commissioners’ commitment to serve the community in a clear and transparent manner has been apparent from the beginning,” he wrote. “Inviting the public to join in their inaugural activities certainly demonstrates that.”
Ellsworth also said this is “an exciting time for the community to begin standing up a new commitment to local health care. … I hope the community turns out to share in this learning experience.”
Oskar Rey, a legal consultant with MRSC, told The Beachcomber he intended to be a resource to the commissioners and answer questions hospital districts and their roles and responsibilities as commissioners.
“It will be more of a question and answer session than a formal training on specific topics. I anticipate they have a lot of questions, and this seems like an efficient way to address them,” Rey wrote.
Commissioner-elects told The Beachcomber ahead of the meeting what they hoped came out of it.
Tom Langland wrote in an email that “all the commissioners are pretty pumped to dig into the meat of our job: to sustain and improve local primary care.”
“We’re a little less excited about all the bureaucratic start-up tasks that face us for the next several weeks, but the foundation goes in before the floor,” he wrote.
Wolczko acknowledged the need to get the“organizational minutia done” before larger issues with island health care can be addressed.
“Don’t look for us to solve anything at this first meeting,” he wrote in an email.
Noble said the commissioners are all aware of the many tasks ahead in the next few weeks.
“I am looking forward to getting through the initial phases and beginning to focus on needs assessment, with input from community members,” she wrote in an email.
Councilman Joe McDermott told The Beachcomber in a prepared statement he looks forward to swearing in the new hospital district commissioners.
“It is certainly an honor to be asked to swear in these new commissioners at the start of an important, and certainly challenging, effort to bring much needed healthcare access to the island,” he said. “To be clear, Vashon shouldn’t have been forced into this position — true healthcare reform at the national level would help rural communities like Vashon access local, reliable and quality care. I find it inspiring to see the community step up to make decisions locally and look forward to supporting the commission and community as it begins this work.”