The Sept. 25 meeting of the San Juan County Public Hospital District Board didn’t have quite the fireworks of the meeting the month before, but the presence of Jim Barnhart, head of Peace Island Medical Center, kept the small group of about ten people alert.
That’s because Barnhart was there to talk about women’s heath care services at Peace Island, and, more specifically, about the recent Attorney General opinion that Initiative 120 requires that a public hospital district must abide by state rules regarding abortion, contraception and related women’s reproductive services.
“Peace Island Medical Center does not provide maternity services,” Barnhart said, concluding that the AG opinion is not applicable to PIMC’s relationship with the hospital district.
The AG opinion states:
“It is worth reiterating that I-120 does not require that a public hospital district provide ‘maternity care benefits, services, or information to women.’ A public hospital district does not violate RCW 9.02.160 by choosing not to provide such benefits, services, or information. But if a public hospital district provides ‘maternity care benefits, services, or information to women,’ directly or by contract, then it must also provide the ‘substantially equivalent benefits, services, or information’ required in RCW 9.02.160.”
The referenced state law relates to termination of pregnancy.
Although the hospital commission has not yet taken a formal position on the AG opinion, hospital district chairwoman Lenore Bayuk pointed to the services provided in the amended Subsidy Agreement between PeaceHealth and the hospital commission. Those services are defined in Amendment 1 to the Subsidy Agreement as “charitable health care services, emergency department services and provision of physician services.”
Whether that general list of services might involve provision of maternity services has not been answered either by the commission or by the subsidy agreement. There are no specific health care services mentioned in the Subsidy Agreement. However, maternity services are provided at Peace Island Medical Center by a private medical doctor from Anacortes and a private midwife from Orcas, both of whom are provided space at the medical center “as a courtesy,” according to Barnhart.
Reached after the commission meeting, local health care rights activist Monica Harrington is convinced that the AG opinion, which was requested by state Senator Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas), does indeed apply to the commission and the medical center.
“We intend to continue to press ahead with this issue, and are talking with government officials and private organizations about the next steps necessary to assure that women’s reproductive health care rights are protected,” Harrington said.