Neighborcare Health announced on Friday that it intends to leave the clinic at Sunrise Ridge behind.
No date is set for Neighborcare’s eventual departure from the island, though Neighborcare’s lease at the clinic will expire in October.
“We don’t know anything beyond that. We don’t know anything prior to that,” Sunrise Ridge board president Greg Martin said.
In a statement, CEO Michael Erikson wrote that Neighborcare has “thoroughly evaluated all possible avenues to continue providing services on Vashon” but will not respond to a request for proposal (RFP) for providers that commissioners of the Vashon Health Care District began circulating last week.
The RFP was unanimously approved during their Zoom meeting last Wednesday. Commissioners hope to identify a new health care provider to operate the clinic by the summer.
The school-based health center operated by Neighborcare will continue to operate as usual and is not affected by the decision to pull out of the main clinic, noted Erikson.
“This decision was made after lengthy consideration of our experience of the Vashon community’s needs, our model of care and our overall organization and commitments,” the statement reads, adding that Neighborcare is unable to meet the island’s request for urgent care services and longer hours to see more patients.
More information pertinent to the upcoming transition about billing, health records, prescriptions and insurance would be forthcoming, Erikson wrote.
The announcement by Neighborcare to leave the island comes after the Seattle-based nonprofit last month requested $653,152 from the island’s health care district, enough to help break even at the clinic for the period of December 2019 through June of this year and cover 100% of its actual and projected losses.
Neighborcare Health has operated the Vashon clinic since 2016. Erikson said those nearly four years have “presented challenges of operational and financial sustainability that other health care providers serving the rural island community faced previously, and some challenges that are especially difficult for a [Federally Qualified Health Center],” Erikson said.
For his part, Martin said the Sunrise Ridge board has tried to make it easy for them to stay. The amount Neighborcare pays to rent the clinic space — once used as a bunkhouse when the site was a Nike missile base — is “insignificant” to the nonprofit, Martin said.
“The reason we have it for a low amount of money is we’ve always wanted to provide the island healthcare, and that’s still our goal.”
In a written response to the latest announcement by Neighborcare, commissioners expressed gratitude for the organization, adding that it filled an important role vacated by CHI Franciscan after that provider ceased services at the clinic, citing their own financial challenges.
“Over time, however, it became increasingly evident that Neighborcare’s business and service model was not a sustainable fit for the island. From that standpoint, Neighborcare’s announcement comes as no surprise,” commissioners wrote, adding that their RFP is “focused on a delivery model that will appeal to all residents of Vashon, and should, therefore, be more sustainable.”
Commissioners have also thought about what will happen to staff at the clinic who are now familiar to islanders and relied upon. In the transition ahead, they hope to retain staff who currently work at the clinic however possible.
“The health care providers at the Sunrise Ridge clinic have many loyal patients. The transition surely will be challenging for these providers, and it is the district’s hope that they may have an opportunity to continue to practice on the island with a new provider system,” commissioners wrote.
The district is well on its way toward finding a successor to Neighborcare, having set in motion the search process after approving the RFP they intended to circulate to regional health care systems.
Getting to that point took months. But commissioner Eric Pryne said the RFP could trace its roots as far back as a year, to voter pamphlet statements from islanders who wanted change before they overwhelmingly approved of forming the district in the first place.
“This is a big step toward what the district was created to do and what we as commissioners were elected to do six months ago now,” he said.
Joe Kunkel, president of a Portland-based firm called The Healthcare Collaborative who was hired by the district as a consultant, went further about what the RFP meant going forward for healthcare on the island.
“You’re talking about wanting to establish a long-term relationship with a provider so we’re not back (doing) this kind of exercise again,” he said.
Kunkel noted that the RFP helps to “tell the story” — everything from the island’s long history of service providers to demographics and needs as outlined in an included “Vision of Care.”
“All of these things are part of the fabric of what makes Health Care on Vashon what it is and I think it’s an important backdrop for everything we’ve been wanting to convey to a prospective proposer,” he said.
The full text of Erikson’s statement is below.
“When Neighborcare Health began operating the clinic on Sunrise Ridge in September 2016, we did so in fulfillment of our mission, our service commitments, and our ultimate goal of 100% health care access and zero health disparities. Although there have been previous health care providers, ours was the first Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) to do so. In the nearly four years since, our staff has been honored to provide care to thousands of islanders.
These four years have also presented challenges of operational and financial sustainability that other health care providers serving the rural island community faced previously, and some challenges that are especially difficult for an FQHC. In response, islanders wisely voted to create a Public Health District to help guide and sustain critical health care access into the future.
As the Public Health District is now positioned to invite multiple health care organizations to respond to a request for proposals to be Vashon’s long-term primary medical care services provider, Neighborcare Health has made the decision not to respond. This means that Neighborcare Health will ultimately transition out of the Vashon Island clinic, to be succeeded by a new health care service provider identified by the commissioners.
We have thoroughly evaluated all possible avenues to continue providing services on Vashon, and ultimately concluded that we cannot optimally meet the community’s unique needs, such as urgent care, or longer visits with providers and longer hours. There is no confirmed date for the transition but we will do our utmost to coordinate with the island’s commissioners and the successor provider on the timing of a transition, hoping that together we can find a timeline that is feasible for all parties and maintains continuous service.
This decision was made after lengthy consideration of our experience of the Vashon community’s needs, our model of care and our overall organization and commitments. We are grateful to the community for trusting us with its care, and for its generosity through financial donations. We have also appreciated the valuable partnerships with the many other organizations that work to help the Vashon community thrive, including Granny’s Attic which has shown unwavering support, and the Public Health District commissioners.
We are also thankful to the clinic staff, who have done outstanding work. Results of our patient satisfaction surveys show that our Vashon patients trust in their care teams and feel they receive excellent care. Our intention is to match these staff members with similar positions in other parts of our organization if they are interested. Whether these staff members work with the successor service provider will depend on the organization and those individuals.
It is important to note that this decision will not impact Neighborcare’s school-based program on Vashon Island, which receives funding through Best Starts for Kids. The school-based health center will continue to operate as usual serving students on the island.
We understand that patients and the community will have many questions about many things, such as timing, health records, prescriptions, billing, insurance, and many others. Please know that when we have more information we will communicate widely with our patients and the community. Until then, our clinic staff are available, and we encourage you to continue your care with your current health care team for any needs you may have.”
Neighborcare Health CEO
Correction: In the print version of this article, Sunrise Ridge board president Greg Martin said Neighborcare Health’s lease at the Sunrise Ridge clinic expires in September. It expires in October according to a spokesperson.