SOUNDOFF: What's happening at Whidbey General?

I am a registered nurse with 30-plus years of hospital nursing experience. Several of these were at Whidbey General Hospital. I have experienced a great number of changes in hospital care and have spent several years in nursing administration both at Whidbey General and other hospitals. Therefore I understand very well the gradient between cost and reimbursement.

I firmly believe that it would be an absolute travesty for the residents of Whidbey Island to lose access to hospital care here. However, with all the talk of severe financial difficulties for the hospital, what are we to think?

We hear of staffing reduction by “attrition.” Then we hear that long-standing, loyal, hard working employees are bought out in the form of early retirements with substantial settlements. We hear of terminations, most recently experienced by licensed practical nurses from the emergency department — a grave loss. Of course it’s cheaper to hire in less-experienced registered nurses. But it is not just nursing staff that is getting the axe. Have you tried to get an appointment in the physical therapy department lately? Staffing cuts there result in two to four weeks’ wait to get an initial appointment and God forbid that you might need to reschedule!

Within the last several days I have had reason to be at the hospital for my annual mammogram. I was pondering the hospital’s financial situation and all the layoffs as I entered through the very opulent, recently completed lobby. Imagine my surprise after entering the new mammography suite, when it was suggested that I remain nude from the waist up in order to “save the hospital the 25 cents that it would cost the hospital to launder the gown.”

It seems a little disproportionate that despite the “dire” financial straits we seem to hear about, there is such a luxurious new lobby and expensive new capital equipment one sees, some standing idle. Yet patients are asked to forfeit their modesty for the sake of a quarter.

Recently I was pleased to hear that Dr. Paul Zaveruha, surgeon and trauma director and medical director of the Island’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) plans to run for hospital commissioner. Given his vast experience and professional and personal integrity, he would make a wonderful addition to the board.

Many residents here on the Island know of “Doc Z’s” stellar reputation, his plain speaking and honesty. In fact, many owe their very lives to his expertise both as a surgeon and his involvement with Island EMS.

A short time ago, I was made aware of a very threatening letter to Dr. Zaveruha from the hospital board by Mr. Peter Borden, president of the board. (If I am not mistaken it is his position that Doc Z hopes to win.) It seems that the commissioners were opposed to Dr. Zaveruha’s potential position with them.

I understand that it is their assertion that the position would be in conflict of interest to Doc Z’s practice and position as Medical Director of EMS. I wonder how many of the commissioners have collected a paycheck in one way or another from the hospital. Does this mean that they are in conflict of interest as well?

I challenge anyone to find a physician with more professional integrity than Dr. Zaveruha. There are numerous physicians elsewhere who seem to be able to serve in leadership roles on hospital commissions and boards while continuing to manage their practices. They need only abstain on issues where conflict of interest applies.

It almost seems as if someone has something to hide. Perhaps it is time for an independent audit. So I ask once again, what on Earth is going on down at Whidbey General Hospital?

Oak Harbor resident Phyllis Gaskill works as a registered nurse.

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