Hospital chief outlines district woes, goals

WhidbeyHealth CEO Ron Telles admits the hospital district is facing financial and morale problems and says he’s working to fix those issues.

During a Council of Governments meeting Wednesday, Telles listed for Island County officials three main goals he has for the organization: make it a place employees want to work, make it a place where providers want to practice and make it a place where the community wants to go for health care.

A recent employee survey showed low job satisfaction, Telles told county and port commissioners, mayors of Langley and Coupeville and the Oak Harbor city administrator. He said he’s been job shadowing different employees throughout the district to get a better idea of their daily routine and needs.

Telles said his goal is to make them feel valued.

“That means listening to learn not listening to reply,” he said.

He said the high turnover of physicians is also a problem, especially because it makes it difficult for patients to develop a bond and trust with their doctor. Keeping provider positions filled should also help reduce the time it takes to get into an appointment and therefore keep people from going off island, he said.

To get a better idea of what is causing people to seek services elsewhere, the hospital district is running an online community survey, which can be found at

The low patient volume is largely contributing to the financial shortfalls the hospital is experiencing.

Revenue is mostly based on patient visits, which have recently been declining.

Telles also discussed plans to convert its Clinton facility into an urgent-care center. This is meant to divert non-emergency situations away from WhidbeyHealth Medical Center’s emergency room. He said the change would mean less revenue per visit, but it’s better for the patients’ wallets and will hopefully result in a greater volume.

The government leaders expressed support for Telles’ goals and vision and many said it’s in everyone’s best interest for the public hospital and its clinics to survive.

“Health care can’t change overnight,” Telles said. “It’s going to take time … I’m getting my feet wet right now.”

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