Staff photo/Hayley Day Commissioners Bill Williams and Monica Harrington listen at the San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1 meeting on Dec. 28.

PHD discusses ferry relocation, air insurance and PeaceHealth subsidy

The San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1 commissioners discussed issues like ferry relocation and air insurance memberships at the Dec. 28 meeting, but not last month’s amendment to the PeaceHealth subsidy agreement.

Ferry relocation

San Juan Island EMS and MedEvac Chief Jerry Martin reported that Washington State Ferries is considering relocating the inter-island ferry, which currently parks overnight at Friday Harbor, to Anacortes. Chief Martin said he’d like the WSF close to the island in case of emergencies to load apparatuses like a fire engine and personnel to other islands. Commissioners said they would work with Chief Martin to keep the ferry at San Juan Islands.

Airlift Northwest

To encourage islanders to purchase both regional air ambulances, Airlift Northwest employees gave a presentation on their services. Island Air is expected to present at a different meeting.

“The more people can learn about this, when it’s not in a time of crisis, the more it helps,” said Scott Zander, Bellingham base manager and flight nurse for Airflift Northwest.

Zander explained that only one of Airlift’s fixed-wing aircraft can regularly land at Friday Harbor Airport because the runway is too short for the others (though another could possibly land in rare instances). The airplane is located in Yakima and is 52 minutes away from Friday Harbor, if flown in a straight line, not including time to load patients or weather issues. The closest aircraft is a rotary aircraft, about 14 minutes away in Bellingham.

Airlift has nine aircraft; five are rotary or helicopters, and four are fixed-wing, or airplanes. All Airlift aircraft are IFR-capable, meaning they can be more easily flown when it’s difficult to see the horizon, like during inclement weather like fog or rain. Each fixed-wing aircraft has de-icing capabilities, which allows them to fly in the cold.

Island Air separated from San Juan County EMS in April. The county levy that funds EMS ground ambulances also covered MedEvac. Island Air has been covering passengers’ travel fees after insurance, to ease the transition, but has to stop in 2017 due to funds. Weather, aircraft availability and patient health are some factors that determine the MedEvac provider needed and cannot be predicted. Purchasing both air ambulance memberships is the best bet, said San Juan County Medical Director Michael Sullivan at the district’s November meeting.

An Airlift Northwest membership is $79 per year for a single person or family in Washington. Kathleen Cassels, Airlift’s membership manager, said insurance is required to purchase any Airlift membership. Medicaid recipients don’t need to purchase memberships because MedEvac is paid, in full, by their coverage. Medicare recipients should check with their supplemental insurance companies to see what percentage insurance pays after Medicare to evaluate if a membership is needed.

“You may not need a membership if 100 percent is paid by Medicare,” said Cassels.

PeaceHealth subsidy

During last month’s meeting, SJC Public Hospital District No. 1 passed an amendment to the PeaceHealth subsidy agreement. The amendment allows $50,000 of the $1,143,000 subsidy to be used at other island vendors that offer services the hospital does not currently, nor plans to offer. In individual conversations with The Journal, some commissioners said they were interested in funding services like hospice, physiatric care and cervical and breast cancer.

Commissioners will decide how to spend the $50,000 at later meetings, after research is gathered.

“We’ve got to do our homework — learn more about those services and talk to the community more,” said SJC Public Hospital District Chair Bill Williams.