Hospital district approves PeaceHealth amendment

The San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1 passed an amendment to reduce a subsidy agreement with PeaceHealth Peace Island Medical Center on Nov. 23.

If the hospital refuses certain services, the district can use the $50,000 from the reduction to contract with other organizations to provide them. PeaceHealth must be the first organization to be contacted.

The board will decide which services the subsidy portion will fund at later meetings.

“This is a good solution for both organizations,” said Bill Williams, chair of San Juan County PHD No. 1.

The subsidy is paid through a permanent levy to help offset services the hospital provides, like emergency services to people who cannot afford to pay.

PeaceHealth can refuse services to the district that it doesn’t provide, according to the original agreement. As a Catholic Healthcare Ministry, the hospital doesn’t provide abortion or end-of-life services.

The amendment passed in a 3-2 vote. Board Commissioner Mark Schwinge said the hospital is not financially stable to lose subsidy funds. Board Commissioner Monica Harrington said the district has an obligation to provide services PeaceHealth can’t.

The $50,000 reduction is the lowest amount the organizations agreed on that would not interfere with services PeaceHealth provides.

“The intent is not in any way to detract what PeaceHealth offers,” said Williams.“They wouldn’t have agreed if they thought it would do that. They have been a good partner.”

San Juan County PHD No. 1 and PeaceHealth representatives can review and negotiate the reduction amount within the next two years. After that, it will be reviewed every five years.

This is the third amendment to the agreement since it was contracted.

At the Nov. 23 meeting, San Juan County Medical Director Michael Sullivan urged islanders to buy memberships at both regional air ambulances, Island Air Ambulance, which uses airplanes, and Airlift Northwest, which uses helicopters and fixed-wing aircrafts.

Weather, aircraft availability and patient health are some factors that determine the MedEvac provider needed and cannot be predicted.

“I’d like to see all islanders have both memberships so I don’t have to take my mind off your medical care,” said Sullivan, about asking patients which membership they have during emergencies.

Island Air Ambulance separated from San Juan County EMS in April, when the EMS contract couldn’t cover recent Island Air upgrades, like certifications and a caravan to fly in inclement weather.

The county levy that funds EMS ground ambulances also covered MedEvac. Island Air has been covering passengers’ travel fees after insurance, to ease the transition. In 2017, that stops.

“We wanted to be able to honor that [no charge] for the rest of the year, but legally we have to charge unless you buy a membership,” said Jackie Hamilton, owner of Island Air.

Island Air memberships are $39 per year for a single person or family, if purchased before 2017, and $49 after. An Airlift Northwest membership is $79 per year for a single person or family in Washington.

Williams equated the purchase of the memberships to a ferry ticket. Harrington said memberships could make great holiday presents.

Air ambulance memberships do not work for those without insurance or insurance that does not cover MedEvac, including Medicaid.

San Juan County Medical Director Michael Sullivan speaks on the importance of buying both regional air ambulance memberships at the Nov. 23 meeting.

San Juan County Medical Director Michael Sullivan speaks on the importance of buying both regional air ambulance memberships at the Nov. 23 meeting.