Last Thursday, the Vashon Health Care District Board of Commissioners mapped out plans to start up and sustain the island’s hospital district.
On Dec. 11, board members Eric Pryne, Don Wolczko, LeeAnn Brown, Wendy Noble and Tom Langland agreed to establish several committees, each tasked with finding resources to support the district. Commissioners also received a briefing on where interim funding for next year could come from since the district missed the last budget cycle and money from the levy on residents’ property taxes won’t be available until 2021.
“We have a lot of work to do in setting this organization up,” Pryne said during the meeting, held at its permanent location, the social room of the Vashon Presbyterian Church. “Someone once asked me if I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose right now — and sometimes it does feel that way.”
Pryne proposed committees — sub-groups consisting of board members — assigned to look into four categories essential to running the health care district: staff and professional services; technology and facilities; finances; and external relations.
Pryne said the staffing and professional services committee would be tasked with finding an interim superintendent to serve while the full board conducts a search for a permanent superintendent, the district’s chief administrative officer.
The committee would also find legal counsel for the board, he added.
A technology and facilities committee would find any needed office space, computers and an expert to build a website for the district, Pryne said.
A “key” committee, he continued, would look at district finances; find a treasurer and auditor, and research 2020 revenue sources.
The fourth committee would be responsible for talking to health care providers, including Neighborcare Health, which operates the island’s main primary care clinic. The committee would also talk to county and state representatives to get assistance in operating the district.
Pryne said he believes these committees would “divide up the workflow and make sure there are clear-eyed views of who does what.”
2020 funding outlook
John Jenkel, an island attorney who was part of the Vashon-Maury Island Health Collaborative, provided board members with details on how funding for the next year could be secured.
He mentioned several different sources of funding that could come into the district, including real estate tax, which won’t be available to the PHD until 2021, when commissioners set a levy rate.
“Given that fact, we started talking with the state and the county quite some time ago about the possibility for bridge funding, which is a mechanism that new districts use for getting across that hurdle,” Jenkel said. “Most times, bridge funding isn’t for as long a gap as the one year period we’re going to have.”
The gap was created due to the fact that the district missed a budget cycle, Jenkel said, but to no fault of their own — islanders voted to establish a hospital district in November.
But even before anyone knew the election’s outcome, Jenkel said discussions about bridge funding began as far back as August. At that time, he met with the King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office and several members of the Legislature to ask for that money. Jenkel said officials “green-lighted” the concept for Vashon.
The Beachcomber reached out to a spokesman with Constantine’s office, who was not able to immediately hear from county budget officials on this matter. The newspaper also reached out to the island’s state representative, Democrat Joe Fitzgibbon, but a spokeswoman with his office said he was unavailable.
After the November election, the request for bridge funding was renewed, Jenkel said on Dec. 11, and applications from the King County executive’s office were received.
Jenkel said the board could apply with King County for an inter-fund loan to help fund the district. Aside from government funding, the district could set up other bank accounts, including ones that accept public donations, he said.
He also told commissioners that Protect Vashon Health Care — the campaign that successfully convinced a plurality of islanders to vote for a hospital district — agree to roll over its remaining funds to the district, a move approved by the Public Disclosure Commission.
“That will at least give a starting balance into the fund,” Jenkel said. “But, as I said, we need to get a couple of other accounts.”
In an email to The Beachcomber after the meeting, Langland said it would be “crucial” for the district to receive funding before 2021.
“The finance committee is now researching the pathways to this short-term funding, including the pathway described by Mr. Jenkel during our last meet, as well as other private and commercial opportunities,” Langland wrote.
Dec. 11 was the first time the commissioners heard from islanders during the public comment portion of the meeting.
One resident, Steve Nourse, who was publicly opposed to the hospital district measure during the election, told the board he’d like to see improvements of the Sunrise Ridge Health Services clinic — the location of the island’s largest primary care facility. Sunrise Ridge has leased the clinic to the Seattle-based nonprofit Neighborcare Health since 2016.
“I’m just making the assumption that we are certainly, at least for now, going to have the same health care clinic where it is right now, and … if there ever is money, to do some remodeling,” Nourse said. “I think the physical aspects of that site could really be improved. I think that’s a really important thing.”
Another islander, JoAnn Herbert, suggested the commissioners stay focused on other priorities first, including conducting a health care needs assessment, before trying to fix the Neighborcare Health clinic at Sunrise Ridge.
“I feel like the priority should be to get a team together that is cohesive and informed in serving the needs of the community and letting them … do their work before the thought of a new building,” Herbert said. “You know, Americans, they always think, ‘throw money at things’… but really, that’s not the essence of what I’m thinking we should be going for initially. Before you know what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, it’s a mistake to think you want a new building.”
Langland responded that a capital project would come “way behind” other needs of the district.