By Journal staff
We disagree with the town council’s recent decision.
On June 7, the Town of Friday Harbor Council voted 4-1 to not rezone the now-shuttered Life Care Center property from professional services to commercial.
We understand that residents, many of whom saw friends and family forced to leave the island to find treatment or employment, were upset about turning this needed resource into a commercial enterprise. Islanders need the services provided at the Life Care Center, so how could a search for a potential buyer of the business end?
The problem is that this type of care facility does not work in this community.
The former owner of the Life Care Center has made it clear that a skilled nursing facility is not fiscally possible on a rural island. A local task force, whose members have been researching how to bring the services offered at the skilled nursing facility back to the islands, has come to the same conclusion.
We agree that we need health care for our aging population, but reinstating an old model that did not work is not the solution.
We applaud the task force for stepping up to find answers to this complex problem.
We like their idea about “micro-nursing homes,” where about 10 people live in a facility that provides similar services that Life Care did. According to the task force, the smaller capacity would drive costs down, compared to Life Care’s 85 beds.
The point is that no one is going to buy the old Life Care Center to re-open the same business because it doesn’t produce profits. In turn, it does not make sense for the town council to not allow rezoning. It also strikes us as odd that the former Inter Island Medical Center building was rezoned by the council from professional services to commercial after its closure, but they denied the same rezoning for the Life Care Center property next door. (However, the Inter Island Medical Center has been empty and on the market for about five years.)
We also know that there are members of our community who can’t wait for the services offered at Life Care to return. Take Cynthia Elliot, for instance, a long-time islander with Parkinson’s disease. She was forced to move to a nursing home on the mainland when, in 2017, the Life Care Center closed and she could not afford local live-in facilities. A fundraiser helped to bring Elliot home. She now lives in the assisted living facility Village at the Harbour. Elliot is one of the millions of Americans who use Medicaid, the state and federally funded program that provides insurance to low-income Americans. While Village at the Harbour does not accept that insurance provider, Life Care did. In fact, most of their patients paid with Medicaid when the facility closed.
While the task force researches solutions for issues like adequate reimbursement rates for insurance providers, let’s aid former Life Care residents who need help returning home today. If you know of a resident who could benefit from a fundraiser similar to Elliot’s, email firstname.lastname@example.org.