An exciting new chapter in the story of health care on Vashon began this week.
On Monday, Nov. 9, Sea Mar Community Health Centers, the new operator of the primary care clinic at Sunrise Ridge, opened its doors to patients. Neighborcare Health ceased operations Oct. 30 after informing the Vashon Health Care District eight months earlier that it would not remain on the island long-term.
The district’s search for a successor to Neighborcare turned out to be a heavier lift than any of us anticipated, largely due to COVID-19. When earlier efforts faltered, Superintendent Eric Jensen reached out to his contacts at Seattle-based Sea Mar. That led to a contract, approved by district commissioners Oct. 15, that calls for Sea Mar to run the clinic in return for a subsidy from the district.
Some community members have expressed concern that Sea Mar, like Neighborcare, is a Federally Qualified Health Center, designed to primarily serve low-income populations. But Sea Mar, like Neighborcare, can and does serve patients from all demographic groups, with all kinds of insurance.
And there are things about Sea Mar that we think make it a better fit for Vashon.
For one: Sea Mar, unlike Neighborcare, has experience serving a wide range of communities — urban, suburban and rural. While Neighborcare’s other clinics all are in the city of Seattle, Sea Mar provides services in 11 Washington counties, including facilities in such communities as Mount Vernon, Yelm and Ocean Shores. We’re confident this experience will allow Sea Mar to adapt the services it offers to Vashon’s particular needs.
Sea Mar is still learning about Vashon, and we’re still learning about Sea Mar. For now, however, here are some important things we can share with you:
- The doctors, nurse practitioners and other staff who worked for Neighborcare at Sunrise Ridge remain. Sea Mar offered all employment, and all but one accepted.
- The clinic’s phone number remains the same: 206-463-3671. Your call will be answered at the clinic – not at a centralized, system-wide call center. We’re already hearing positive reports about patients’ experiences.
- Sea Mar plans to offer COVID-19 tests at the clinic. Stay tuned for details.
- Sea Mar will assist in the transfer of your medical records from Neighborcare – or any other provider. To learn how to transfer records from Neighborcare, go to neighborcare.org/patients/access-your-records.
- The clinic will treat patients experiencing many acute medical conditions on a walk-in or same-day appointment basis. But it’s not an emergency room or urgent care center; if your condition is serious, call 911.
- Sea Mar’s primary care model reflects the idea of a patient-centered medical home that we identified in our Vision Statement. Under this model, different levels of care are integrated so that there is continuity across providers. The primary provider coordinates treatment but collaborates with other providers to maintain appropriate referrals and follow-up care from specialists.
- Kaiser Permanente members are welcome at the clinic — Sea Mar is contracting with Kaiser to serve them.
- Sea Mar’s Vashon clinic will continue to refer patients to hospital systems and providers throughout the region. Sea Mar has a collaboration with MultiCare, a hospital-based system, which allows ease of referral to their specialists and improved follow-up care.
We’re pleased Sea Mar acted quickly to put systems in place and keep services available while the clinic was being vacated by Neighborcare. Providers were set up in an expedited manner so they could provide telehealth visits during the one-week closure so there was minimal disruption of care to patients.
We’re also pleased they seem genuinely committed to getting to know Vashon and tailoring clinic services accordingly. Sea Mar already has been reaching out to Vashon residents to introduce itself.
So join us in welcoming Sea Mar to the island. We look forward to working in partnership to ensure quality, sustainable primary care.
And please consider using the Sea Mar Vashon Island clinic for your primary care. As a Community Health Center system, wherever they operate, Sea Mar has proven to be responsive to the community’s concerns, and for that, they count on our full support. The clinic’s financial success, and its impact on your tax dollars, depends on having enough patients.
As questions occur to you, please post them on the district’s website, vashonhealthcare.org. We’re also interested in hearing about experiences with Sea Mar, positive or negative.
The district is excited and hopeful about this new chapter in Vashon’s health care story. We hope you are, too.
Tom Langland is president of the Vashon Health Care District’s board of commissioners. Eric Jensen is the district’s superintendent.