Opinion

Orcas Medical Center director clarifies the record | Guest Column

By ALISON SHAW

I am utterly dismayed by the letter from Glenn Kaufman that appeared on SanJuanJournal.com (“Opposed to PeaceHealth/San Juan Community Hospital Committee proposal,” March 9). I am the administrator of the Orcas Medical Center and am deeply concerned that I was misrepresented in paragraphs four and five of his letter.

A couple of months ago, I was notified by my staff that several people had arrived from the Inter Island Medical Center. They had made no prior appointment but, since they represented themselves as members of a “sister” practice, I agreed to show them around our medical center.

In the end, they asked a number of questions about our operations, including our financial operations. Because I consider our finances confidential and am not willing to disclose such information to virtual strangers, I prevaricated and simply said we were “doing all right.” (From this, they apparently inferred that we were operating “in the black”).

At the time, I also belabored the fact that we, as most other family medicine practices, are virtually squeezed by the insurance carriers. This is particularly true with Medicare and Medicaid.

While costs to medical centers increase dramatically each year (e.g.: employee health care costs have increased by over 15 percent in each of the past three years), recovery from insurance companies increases by only 2-3 percent, if we’re lucky. However, these same insurance companies have no qualms about establishing new programs and rules that create an ever-increasing administrative burden on practices. The result is that employees just work harder and longer because their practices can’t afford to hire the staff they really need.

Without the very generous support from members of the Orcas Island Medical Center Association (a 501c3 organization that owns the medical building and helps support Orcas Medical Center, PLLC) plus a few other outside sources, we at the Orcas Medical Center would not be able to provide the services that we currently do.

I would also like to correct another statement made in Mr. Kaufman’s letter regarding the similarity of our practices. I’ve looked at the IIMC Web site and note that they have many more staff members and offer several services that we do not. (I suspect that IIMC’s total patient volume is higher than ours, necessitating larger numbers of staff.)

Finally, the Orcas Island Medical Center Association does not own the Orcas Medical Center, PLLC; the latter is a privately held limited liability company.

Contrary to what one would believe from Mr. Kaufman’s letter, the Orcas Medical Center is very interested in the plans on San Juan Island to build a hospital. We believe that one way for island practices to provide quality health care to their communities, without having to rely on private donations from generous citizens, is to enter into partnerships with large referral centers. These referral centers, such as Peace Health, recognize that primary care practices provide their bread and butter by referring hundreds of patients to them each year for specialty out-patient and in-patient care. It is fitting that they support those medical practices.

Again, I deeply regret that I was both misunderstood and misrepresented in Mr. Kaufman’s letter. When he and his colleagues dropped in on our practice, there was no mention of a political agenda, nor that my words might find their way into a public forum. As one acquaintance put it, I was “sandbagged.” It won’t happen again.

— Alison Shaw is administrator of Orcas Medical Center

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