Letters to the Editor

Opposed to PeaceHealth/San Juan Community Hospital Committee proposal

PeaceHealth has now sweetened the $30 million Integrated Medical Facility kitty.

Seventy grand worth of hype heretofore had not sugar-coated this pill enough to persuade the community to swallow. With its new $20 million pledge, PeaceHealth is plainly in a lather to get its foot in our door. The proposition is now almost irresistible, and if our enthralled Hospital District Board of Commissioners bites, part of the price will be the forfeiture of independent local control of our present and future healthcare universe to the agenda of a corporation.

Given the marketing blitz laid on the community to date, and the lack of initiative by our commissioners, you could be forgiven if you concluded there are no other remedies for our healthcare needs. Not so!

Not 10 miles from here is an example of how quality healthcare is being delivered with no tax support. The Orcas Island Medical Center in Eastsound is owned and operated by the Orcas Island Medical Center Association. Its construction was financed by philanthropy. It is approximately the same size as our Inter Island Medical Center, offers a similar array of services and similar staffing.

During a recent visit by me and two friends, its administrator claimed she was operating in the black on fees for service, insurance proceeds and the very same shrinking Medicare reimbursements that reportedly have bedeviled our IIMC administrator, but without any, much less a $1.4 million tax subsidy. In fact, according to the County Auditor’s office, OIMCA actually paid $6,5l5.13 in 2008 property taxes!

The San Juan Community Hospital Committee says it can raise $10 million in philanthropy. Good. Let it. Let it then build us a $10 million integrated medical center, modularly designed so it can be expanded easily when needed. The OIMC is assessed for taxes by the county at $1.318 million; in strictly numerical terms, our facility would be in the beginning at least seven and a half times bigger and better. Best of all, it will be entirely ours and we will not be subservient to the corporate bottom line.

In the meantime, instead of allowing PeaceHealth to buy its way into this community and gain sway over our healthcare future, why not truly invite it in to manage our IIMC on a trial basis, say for three years? Put it to the test, discover what it can do for us in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, in island time, rather than become bemused by its trading on its laurels as it proclaims its beneficence in Eugene or Ketchikan or other climes.

And if the IIMC is as deficient and irredeemable as portrayed by the PeaceHealth/Community Hospital Committee combine, all the better test. Put its self-promoted mettle to our mark, and if it measures up, invite it to manage our new integrated medical center when ready. If it declines in either case, fine, we do it ourselves.

I, for one, am not willing to admit that we cannot do what Orcas can. Besides, PeaceHealth will have a leg up with the support of our levy, but we should make clear to PeaceHealth that the levy is to be reduced by one-third each year until at the end of the trial the levy will have been eliminated and the taxing district abolished. Let Orcas be our guide.

My scheme will be criticized for looking a $20 million gift horse in the mouth. I prefer to think of it as prudentially checking his teeth before buying. Can he, and will he, be able to pull our wagon without expecting his head? I don’t think so with the PeaceHealth/Community Hospital Committee proposition, not with such a significant investment.

Since our Hospital District Board of Commissioners has never bestirred itself to offer this community any alternatives to the PeaceHealth/Community Hospital Committee plan, it seems likely it will buy in, apparently considering it the be-all and end-all solution to our healthcare needs even though it comes at the heavy price of our autonomy. The fact that the Hospital District Board of Commissioners and the San Juan Community Hospital Committee have a member in common, a recipe for a sort of intellectual cross-pollination of ideas, informs my pessimism.

I believe what we have here is an attempted suede-glove coup nearly perfected. I would be happy to be proven wrong by the Hospital District Board of Commissioners immediately publicly announcing that when the time comes it will defer its decision to a referendum, the most representative public opinion poll known to mankind.

Short of that, this whole affair shakes out to promoters and sheep. I don’t know if there’s a heaven or hell for promoters. I do know what happens to sheep. Baa.

Glenn Kaufman
San Juan Island

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