Vashon Health Care District commissioners (left to right) Eric Pryne, Don Wolczko and Wendy Noble talk to attendees of the meeting moments before it convenes on Feb. 5. (Kevin Opsahl/Staff Photo)

Vashon Health Care District commissioners (left to right) Eric Pryne, Don Wolczko and Wendy Noble talk to attendees of the meeting moments before it convenes on Feb. 5. (Kevin Opsahl/Staff Photo)

Vashon Health Care District looking at primary care providers

Even as it continues discussions with Neighborcare Health, the Seattle-based nonprofit that operates an island clinic which is struggling, the Vashon Health Care District has reached out to officials with two other off-island primary care providers.

Commissioner Don Wolczko disclosed during the district’s regular meeting on Feb. 5 that he had spoken with people associated with University of Washington Medicine and MultiCare Health, which operates a system of urgent, primary and specialty care facilities throughout the state.

Referring to the conversation he had with UW, Wolczko said the conversation centered around the university’s “potential and how it might fit with the needs of the island.”

“We feel very optimistic about how they could dovetail in and provide services that are not urban, not necessarily rural, but sort of a hybrid between the two that would have potential for those same-day, walk-in services and light urgent care,” Wolczko said.

Wolczko noted that the person he spoke with is both employed by the UW and a resident of the island, but she recused herself from having any involvement in the event the district would negotiate with the university in having a clinic on the island.

When contacted after press time, another commissioner, Eric Pryne, clarified that the discussion with the UW official was only to talk about what the district has been up to and what health care providers look for before determining whether to come to a community.

Wolczko said he has been in touch with officials from MultiCare and is working on a time to meet with them.

“So we’re putting our tentacles out to the different organizations that might be able to help us out,” he said.

Wolczko’s disclosure at the meeting marked the first known contact with medical groups other than Neighborcare Health. District commissioners have said they plan to help keep the nonprofit’s clinic at Sunrise Ridge open for business for the immediate future.

Wolczko said the district would “see what we can do” to support Neighborcare’s island clinic for now.

“At the same time, we want to look beyond this year … and look to see what we can do in the long run to have a really great primary care facility on the island,” he said.

In that sense, Wolczko said in an interview, it’s important for the district to start a conversation with potential providers now.

“We need to really know where we stand with the whole spectrum of provider groups to really figure out what fits best for us,” he said. “We already know that Neighborcare isn’t a very good fit. … We’re just needing to go sooner than later because it takes a while to both find the right providers, to negotiate, to physically have them set up on the island. So the sooner we really get this group of potential care groups together, the better.”

Asked why he chose to reach out to just MultiCare and UW, Wolczko said it came through a mix of leads he has received from other Vashon Health Care District commissioners and the amount of time he has to contact those entities. But other well-known providers, such as Pacific Medical Centers, Swedish Hospital and Kaiser Permanente, could be contacted by commissioners, he added.

“It’s everybody,” Wolczko said. “If you hear of a practice group that practices in the greater Puget Sound area, we’ll be talking to them.”

Wolczko emphasized that choosing a primary care provider for the island would not be part of a survey of existing hospitals and other health care facilities that the state code says is part of the Vashon Health Care District commissioners’ duties.

“I think things are too complex — that’s why we’re here and that’s why we will look to professionals,” Wolczko said. “In the position we are, we can negotiate and no provider is going to want to negotiate with 10,000 people.”

Meanwhile, discussions with the island’s current provider, Neighborcare, have been ongoing essentially since commissioners were sworn in last December, commissioner Eric Pryne said, and confirmed in, two meetings thus far. The first was for the two entities to get to know each other and the second was for the district to learn about the Vashon clinic’s operations and finances. A third meeting will come soon, Pryne said.

During last week’s commissioners’ meeting, Pryne said he had been researching “how to hold meaningful, candid discussions” between Neighborcare and the district while complying with the state’s Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Records Act — two aspects of the law commissioners have been trained on.

In an email to The Beachcomber, Pryne expanded upon why the district is researching the two laws before talking further with Neighborcare.

“NCH has never done business with a public hospital district before,” Pryne wrote. “I anticipate our discussions with them will involve information they ordinarily do not disclose publicly. We need to know — and they need to know — what is potentially subject to disclosure before we enter into substantive discussions.”

This story was updated on Feb. 12, after The Beachcomber’s press time, to clarify discussions the district had with a UW official.

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