Assessment of local health needs turns blind eye to ‘thorny issues’ | As I See It

Jim Skoog

By Jim Skoog

The recently released, and federally mandated, Community Health Needs Assessment undertaken by Peace Health/PIMC does not accurately reflect the needs of this San Juan Island community.

The report has unconscionably ignored, and therefore omitted, topics that were not only of considerable discussion during the process but are being held up to serious scrutiny by the ACLU and legislators in Olympia.

These three major issues are women’s reproductive healthcare, access to end-of-life care, and the lack of a viable urgent care model (walk-in clinic). The latter has created a situation where many islanders are experiencing rising healthcare costs due to their being shuttled to the emergency room for minor injuries and other more urgent aches and pains.

The former issues are of an even higher order, in that they represent a situation where the broad healthcare needs of this community are being limited by the Catholic Church. There are many of us Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others who do not want to have our healthcare options determined by a belief system somewhat different than our own, especially when there are public tax dollars being utilized (making compliance with the Washington State Constitution an issue).

The stakeholder meetings and the “core group” meetings were not open to the general public. Peace Health chose the attendees. Planned Parenthood was not included, as well as other key voices.

Our San Juan County health officer participated in the process and when asked by a member of the San Juan County Board of Health about why these major issues were left out, he said that he did not want to put those “thorny” issues in the document. He said that he wanted only to include issues where there is a broad consensus; that, “we can all work together on.”

Does he not feel that these issues warrant dialogue between reasonable, responsible people? Is he the gatekeeper of our healthcare needs? At the very least these issues should have been included in the report, prioritized, and noted that more dialogue needs to happen.

He then said that there is “nothing wrong with getting some successes and cooperation under our belt before we take on those hard issues.” Really?

Is this not just kicking the ball down the road?

The next federally mandated Community Health Needs Assessment is planned for three years from now. A lot can happen in three years.

One would think that a large healthcare organization like Peace Health would want to get ahead of a serious situation like this by actively addressing these public concerns, opening up dialogue, and working on solutions rather than waiting for an inevitable, protracted, and expensive, legal battle.

These “thorny” issues have been substantially ignored by our public hospital district board as well.

This San Juan County junior taxing district board is responsible for making sure your property tax dollars are being properly allocated by PIMC and EMS in such a way that is consistent with state and federal laws, as well as “caring, healing, serving” our community.

There is an election this November, with a filing date (for candidates) in May, and three of five positions on the public hospital district board are open.

If these comments resonate with you and you wish to serve your community and move toward honest and productive dialogue then please think about running.

—Editor’s note: Board member and treasurer of San Juan Island Public School Foundation, and Land Bank commissioner, Jim Skoog navigated the health care establishment both locally and on the mainland in a journey with his wife through cancer. He is the son of a retired physician and a former nurse.