Hospital commissioner hopefuls debate the issues

From left: Dr. Michelle Loftus

The three candidates running for Public Hospital District Commissioner Position No. 2 answered questions from the public at a forum hosted by the San Juan Public Library on July 7.

Ninety-five people attended, filling up the library’s community room. The forum, moderated by Scott Rasmussen, allowed audience members to submit questions about the candidate’s professional and personal qualifications. Questions also delved into religious, political and affiliate influences.

When asked what sort of qualifications they would bring to the position, Dr. Michelle Loftus presented herself as knowledgeable about the medical field from her background as a veterinarian. Daniel Miller told the audience that he had raised money for cancer through Relay for Life, and had enthusiasm for the position. Barbara Sharp recalled her background as an attorney, saying that she has experience in analyzing data, critical thinking, and legal contracts.

Two hot button topics touched on at different points were abortion and doctor assisted suicide. One question asked of the candidates, “Why is Peace Health getting public funds when they don’t honor all end of life and beginning of life directives?”

Loftus answered that they do allow people to make their own decisions, Miller replied that he was staunchly against assisted suicide and Sharp pointed out that Peace Health has two conflicting policies regarding end-of-life directives. She added that was something she wanted to work with the hospital to rectify.

The audience asked about the high turnover rate of employees at Peace Island Medical Center, and what the candidates might do to stabilize practitioners. Loftus asked for the community to be patient, noting PIMC has only been here two and half years, and that: “Life happens, sometimes we need to take a break.” Miller said he would make sure that pay is competitive, and that working conditions were good. Sharp said that the board currently did not have control over hiring and firing, but she would like the board to have more control. She suggested revising contracts with practitioners to make them longer, instead of one year contracts.

Loftus’ affiliation as chairwoman of the San Juan County Republicans in 2014 was questioned, asked if it would affect her judgement in this nonpartisan position. She replied it would not.

Another audience member asked the candidates what it meant to them that Planned Parenthood endorsed Sharp, but did not endorse Miller or Loftus. Sharp replied that they provided vital community resources and that PIMC should be considering them as a partner in those services. Miller said that he is “pro life” and “that’s not an important question to me,” and Loftus replied that due to her “pro life” position, “it would be very inappropriate for me to have a Planned Parenthood endorsement.”

The candidates also covered what goals they had for the position, how to make PIMC pricing competitive, the EMS levy that expires in 2016, what their biggest challenges will be, the EMS budget and revisiting the PIMC contract. The full forum was recorded by Tom Munsey and can be seen online on YouTube by searching for PIMC Hospital Board Candidates Forum.

This position requires a primary election because there are three candidates. Ballots will be mailed around July 15, votes due Aug. 4. Voters will choose between the final two candidates in the general election Nov. 4, and the new commissioner will begin an unexpired two year term by the end of November. The position is not paid and is a nonpartisan.