Beth Williams-Gieger did well in the Lions’ den | Column by Howard Schonberger

Skepticism always has been my aim as a newsie, voter or investor. “Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see” was what the old-timers would tell me as a cub reporter.

I had my skeptic’s guard up Tuesday when I attended the San Juan Lions Club meeting, where Beth Williams-Gieger, superintendent and clinic administrator of San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1, was scheduled to speak about the proposed integrated medical center.

Now, being a skeptic is different from being a cynic. Cynics believe nothing unless it has some conspiracy connected to it. Skeptics have to listen and get all the facts.

Williams-Gieger was impressive enough to make a believer out of me.

Clinic administrator since 2005, she pointed out the advantages of the new plan for extended-stay medical care — with up to 10 beds 24/7 — as will be needed by our aging population. Since I turn 88 on March 9, this sounded good. Right now, San Juan County is one of only two in the state without such a facility.

Under the current situation, one of the toughest jobs is finding people to fill positions. Since Dr. Marcia Zakarison died March 5, 2007, three doctors have come aboard at the clinic.

Williams-Gieger told how fortunate we were to have Dr. Gregory Moran and how difficult it was to fill his position and others. Luckily, we now have Dr. Allen Johnson, formerly in internal medicine at Swedish and Virginia Mason, full-time; Dr. Rachel Bishop of Orcas Island, two days a week; and Dr. Doug Tuttle, full-time. In addition, visiting specialists consist of Melinda Milligan, midwife; Dr. Robert Prins, OB/GYN; Dr. John Tiessen, podiatry; Dr. David Jessup, cardiology; Dr. David Olson, ear-nose-throat; and Dr. Tina Torri, naturopathy. A calendar of their 2009 schedule is available at the clinic.

It was amazing to hear how difficult it was to get top-flight people to come here.

Another plus is the fact that the district has signed up the VA Visiting Clinic, which started last August and brings a crew of a dozen or so top-flight medical personnel to work with a couple dozen veterans the last Saturday of every month. They take over Inter Island Medical Center that day, headed by a physician from Bellingham, a nurse, specialists, technicians, social workers and the like. They are extremely interested in implementing a telepsychiatry project.

This Veterans Administration program is a real boon to veterans. I can testify to having had to stay overnight in Seattle for various appointments at three different locations — the main VA hospital, Lake City or Shoreline — over the years.

The cynics’ refrain, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true,” was convincingly parried by Williams-Gieger’s answers to every Doubting Thomas. Because of the legislation now on the books, the one group interested in helping us get the same deal as other rural counties in the state is PeaceHealth. They seem to be a perfect fit, they have a good record and our very proficient San Juan Community Hospital Committee has done a fabulous job in getting our community to back up their selection.

PeaceHealth is going to bear two-thirds of the cost of building this rural hospital and will take on all financial liability for its operation (our property tax levy will help support the integrated medical center, but the levy amount will not change. When our levy lid lift expires in 2015, PeaceHealth will not ask that the lift be reinstated.) Medical care will be reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid at a higher rate than the current doctor’s office rate.

I feel we should go for it. It will be as welcome when it opens as Dr. Heath’s clinic was some 35 years ago. What a difference it will be!

— Contact Howard Schonberger at 378-5696 or