Priority '1' for hospital board? Islanders | Guest Column

By Charles Richardson, special to the Journal

Regulatory capture occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or special concerns of interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.” (Wikipedia)

I attended the San Juan County Hospital District Board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 28. The agenda included a discussion about the response to a recent opinion by the Washington state Attorney General stating that if a public hospital provided any maternity services, they must provide the full range of reproductive healthcare services. Many in this community believe that our new hospital is not in compliance with that AG opinion.

At the meeting, I asked the commissioners whether they felt the hospital district, and the hospital, were providing the appropriate range of services. What was the commissioners’ vision of what healthcare should look like in the county, and based on that, do the services being delivered meet that vision?

I was amazed to hear that only one of the five commissioners was willing to express an opinion about that. The other four said they had not yet formed an opinion. I would have thought their core responsibility as commissioners would be to have a vision of what healthcare services should be available to residents of the hospital district, and to do what they could to ensure those services were available. It is hard to understand that at this point four of the five commissioners have not even formed an opinion.

It’s also troubling, because there seemed to be a lack of clarity as to which reproductive health services are currently available. I would have thought the hospital district board commissioners would be in the best position to know what healthcare services are available. It was not clear by their comments that the commissioners do know. And if there is confusion among the commissioners, how can the general public be expected to know?

It appears to me that rather than determining which healthcare services should be available, the commissioners are allowing PeaceHealth to tell us what services PeaceHealth (and the Catholic Bishops) are willing to provide. Shouldn’t the board be telling PeaceHealth what services they need to provide in order to receive taxpayer funds?

“Regulatory capture” may describe what has happened here.

It seems to me that the hospital commissioners are operating almost as a subsidiary of PeaceHealth, representing their interests, rather than as an independent body representing the interests of the taxpayers who elected them and who are providing tax money to fund the operation of the hospital.

I appreciate that the commissioners are in a difficult position. And the new hospital is a beautiful facility due to the efforts of many. But by making the decision to sign a 50-year contract with PeaceHealth, without an advisory vote from the taxpayers, they chose to take full responsibility for the implications of that decision.

I look forward to hearing from the commissioners who they believe should determine what services should be available through the hospital: the hospital commissioners and the community they represent, or PeaceHealth and the Catholic Bishops. And if it is the hospital commissioners, as our representatives, we need to hear what services they believe should be available, and how they intend to ensure those services are provided.

— Editor’s note: Charles Richardson has administrative experience with the largest system of school health clinics in the country, in Minneapolis,and information management for healthcare projects in California and Washington state.


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