Letters to the Editor

Put hospital proposal on the ballot

It is time for some frank discussion of the proposed new hospital.

While it is true there have been many public meetings to “discuss” the issue, in reality these have been to “sell” the idea.

For two years, we have been told that the Hospital Board was exploring the idea of contracting the running of the hospital, but suddenly we are going to turn the whole thing over to outside interests with a 50-year contract where a large corporation owns the building, the land, the physicians and the control of the referral process. This will have a multi-generational impact on how healthcare will be provided on the island and is being imposed on the community without a vote. While legal, this is wrong!

Why has the Hospital Board worked so hard to structure a deal that does not need to go to a public vote? They cite their survey, but obviously do not believe it. This is the only explanation for why they fear a vote.

"Trust them," they say. "We know better than you." "There is no need for a vote." I say this is nonsense. If they believe what they say, put it to a vote.

The project calls for about a 24,500-square-foot outpatient clinic, a 5,400-square-foot EMS, and a 17,000-square-foot 10-bed hospital and ER. In other words, approaching 50,000 square feet for six physicians and 44.5 full-time employees. This is huge! This is almost double the current convalescent center, medical center and aid unit combined.

They project 2.6 hospitalized patients a day and 13 emergency room visits a day. Is this realistic? I think not. Is it going to cost us? You bet. It should be put to a vote.

How about the benefits for the island? New jobs. True, but for off-islanders. The convalescent center chronically needs to hire from off island. Do we want to subsidize an expansion of the island's population? Not me. We will see an increased burden on the town's water system, the need to build and expand roads, the start of more urban sprawl out of the central core and further destruction of the rural character of the Island. This is not my dream. Given the profound impact on our community, it should be put to a vote.

“Enhanced reimbursement” is code for charging more. When you add in the increased ER visit cost and “enhanced” reimbursement of outpatient visits, there will be a dramatic increase in the cost of care. Some of this will come from the state and federal government, but guess what — it is still your tax dollars and mine which pay for this “enhanced reimbursement.”

You add it up: a 50-year taxpayer commitment, increased burden on local infrastructure, increased state and federal taxes, increased charges for services and urban sprawl. This is a good deal?

The million-and-a-half taxpayer dollars we have been forking over for the last many years is supposed to be for emergency and enhanced medical services. This should be enough to pay for a dedicated full-time ER physician, extra nurses and support staff, imaging, blood transfusions, outpatient chemo, observation for patients, etc. Where has the money gone?

Undoubtedly, improved administration will bring new services, but this should not require a massive infrastructure expansion. Let's not cover up poor administration with a massive building program. Put it to a vote.

What does PeaceHealth get? They get $10 million cash up front, an annual subsidy of $1.5 million a year of our tax dollars and a lock on hospital admissions to St. Joe's for 50 years. They will own the whole kit and caboodle. A sweet deal. This should be put to a vote.

We are being asked to put the future of our island's medical care in the hands of a big corporation. The concept is "bigger is better." This is the very thinking that almost led to a $20 million to $30 million expansion of our schools a few years ago. Fortunately, this went to a vote. Can you imagine where our school would be if this had gone through?

Bigger is not always better. Look at our current national crisis. Our largest corporations supposedly run by our best and brightest provide a sobering lesson. They became “too big to fail” and the taxpayer ended up on the hook for huge sums. This is the risk we are about to take.

Do we want to be the smallest cog in a large organization and tie our future to its management for the next 50 years? Personally, this terrifies me. The building of a hospital should go to a vote. I call on the Hospital District board to stop the back-room politics and do the right thing. Put this on a ballot.

Roy Babbit
San Juan Island

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