Top Ten of 2013: No. 4; Tug-of-war over health care

Amid start-up administrative complications and an ongoing tug-of-war about women’s health care services, the first year of Peace Island Medical Center was marked by a string of positives in operations, including more than 2,900 emergency room visits and nearly 200 patient admissions.

By most accounts, the health care has been excellent, although critics have complained about costs. The convenience, especially for islanders needing chemotherapy or other procedures or tests formerly done only on the mainland, has been noteworthy. The architecture and interior design have been widely admired.

But controversy over the annual $l million in property-tax payments received by PeaceIsland from the public hospital district, when combined with the Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare, continues to ignite passion from supporters and critics.

Monica Harrington, health care activist and founder of Catholicwatch, a website devoted to health care issues, has been a catalyst for local concerns about church-inspired constraints on women’s health care and end-of-life alternatives under the “death with dignity” law passed by statewide initiative. She first brought the issues to the hospital district before the PIMC’s November 2012 grand opening.

Peace Island, through chief operating officer Jim Barnhart, makes no apologies for the services offered or its responsiveness to the Ethical and Religious Directives.

Not satisfied with the answers, Harrington asked state Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas) to request an opinion about the issue from newly elected state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

That opinion, released in late August, stated that public hospital districts, and, by extension, a hospital receiving public money, must offer access to, and information about, the full range of women’s health care services, including contraceptives and abortion services.

With the recent involvement of the ACLU, issues raised in San Juan County and now across the state may be resolved only after years of wrangling, possibly all the way to the state and U.S. supreme courts.

— Steve Wehrly


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