Islanders given the option for a new healthcare system
Hannah Spranger, Co-Content Editor
For years, Vashon’s healthcare situation has been out of the hands of residents, and instead under the control of the limited number of clinics who are willing to work on the island. Recently, an alternative option has arisen for the island’s healthcare situation — a hospital district.
A hospital district would offer a change from government-funded healthcare to property tax-funding. Islanders would pay a set amount of taxes each year, which would be determined based on the healthcare needs of the island and King County’s levy rates.
“[A hospital district] would provide us with a sustainable income flow because everybody pays their taxes every year,” Vashon Maury Health Collaborative (VMHC) member Annie Miksch said.
This vote was brought forward for the first time in 2006, but did not receive enough support to pass on the island. A new petition for the option of a hospital district on the island has gained enough signatures to be on the ballot for the general election in November 2019. To be on the November ballot, the petition needed 10 percent of the voters from the previous general election, and the petition received almost double that amount of signatures.
The petition has faced very little push back from residents who were asked to sign it.
“The signatures were just to get it on the ballot,” Miksch said. “Whether you’re in favor or opposed, we just want to give that choice to the island.”
Neighborcare, the current main health care provider on the island, is not considered sustainable. Currently, the business is losing over 300,000 dollars every year. It is predicted that Neighborcare will only be able to last to the end of the year.
“If we don’t get some type of support, [Neighborcare] will have to leave,” VMHC board member Carol McLean said. “No organization, no business … can continue to do 300,000 dollars in the hole every year.”
If Neighborcare were to leave the island, it could be replaced by the potential hospital district, instead of a new primary care clinic.
“It’s really unfortunate they call it a hospital district because there’s no hopital involved,” Miksch said. “We don’t have the level of need, and we couldn’t afford [a hospital], but it’s … healthcare, and so right now it would take the place of Neighborcare up at Sunrise Ridge.”
The Neighborcare clinic within VHS is separate from the clinic on Sunrise Ridge, and either decision would not affect it.
“If the Public Hospital District vote fails, and the medical clinic at Sunrise Ridge has to close, the school-based health center Neighborcare operates will be able to stay open as a stand-alone,” Miksch said.
Along with the vote for a possible hospital district on the November ballot, there would be a choice of commissioner for the district. This new commissioner would assess the needs of the island, conduct interviews, and then choose a provider based on that assessment.
“Our commissioners … will take a very active part in supporting healthcare on the island, [and will make] sure they listen to what the people are saying and to what we need,” McLean said.
Working from the assessment of the island, the commissioner would partner with King County to provide healthcare that best fits the island.
“The commissioners are answerable to the public … and then what they do is they determine the actual rate of the levy subject to King County’s rules,” Miksch said. “It just [gives] control to the island.”
Voting to pay higher taxes is not an easy decision to make, but Miksch encourages islanders to seriously consider supporting it, as a hospital district would help the island as a whole.
“I think [before voting, islanders] need to consider how much it is part of the community and how much we need it,” Miksch said. “I wouldn’t want to live some place where doctors were not available. It would reduce the property values. What family is gonna move over here knowing how isolated they are?”
There are costs to implementing a new healthcare system, and voters must evaluate whether or not those costs are worth it to them.
“I hope people will look at their options and be aware,” McLean said. “There is a cost to it, but there is a cost to living [in] any place. … I would like people to look at it beyond themselves and look at what would really benefit the island as a whole.”