Editorial: Sell hospital bond with enthusiasm

The Whidbey Island Public Hospital District commissioners are building momentum toward a $50 million bond proposal to upgrade Whidbey General Hospital.

Hospital CEO Tom Tomasino has been leading a public information campaign on the idea for a number of months, and Monday night the board of commissioners directed him to delve further into the details of such a bond proposal. It appears the bond may go before voters as soon as May 2011.

One thing to the commissioners’ advantage is that everyone knows we need a hospital on Whidbey Island and it must be competitive in terms or service; otherwise, people will just go to Anacortes, Everett or Seattle. The Whidbey hospital is showing its age with tiny two-bed rooms and other facilities that look second class compared to newer hospital buildings in the surrounding area.

Even in a bad recession, the hospital bond has a chance of passing. The number of older people is growing on Whidbey and one of their top interests is health care. Navy families are using the public hospital facilities more than ever since the base ER was shut down. And if given a choice, most people would rather have their hospital needs met on the island than endure a long ambulance ride to some other location.

What Tomasino and the commissioners must do is sell, sell, sell the reasoning behind the $50 million bond. Cynics might point out that the county’s proposal to raise taxes last summer was hammered at the polls, but the county commissioners sent a poor message, saying they simply wanted the public’s advice on the preferred level of spending. Lesson: If you don’t try, the public won’t care.

A bond proposal provides a great opportunity for the hospital commissioners, officers and health care providers to get out in the community and meet the people. Hold a host of wide-open public meetings. Keep the preaching to a minimum and let the public ask questions. Admit shortcomings and show how the bond proceeds will improve care and staffing.

A hospital improvement bond may be a good idea, but it won’t pass without letting the people have their say and answering their questions. Talking to a few service clubs won’t get the job done. In the end, we’ll have a better informed public and, perhaps, a brand new hospital addition.

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