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Hospital must provide answers
Supporting local control of our hospital is a separate issue from supporting the $50 million bond Issue. I’d hate to see a for-profit company assume control. That said, I have concerns about the bond issue and the needs it fails to address.
I heard the pitch for Whidbey General Hospital’s $50 million bond issue and asked officials if its passage would make health care more accessible and affordable. I never got a clear answer. I was also bothered by the focus on WGH’s competition with off-island hospitals and the subtle references to the need for profits. What I heard was more like a pitch for a commercial enterprise instead of a public hospital.
I also asked how CEO Tomasino’s salary of $230,000, plus $6,000 travel allowance and other benefits, could be justified in these hard economic times. The CEO’s salary amount, which couldn’t be remembered by the hospital board’s chair, was dismissed as “not that much.” I found the answer both disturbing and telling, since the increased property tax associated with the bond proposal was described in the same way.
The bond proposal may address a legitimate need, but it ignores others. People I respect say new private hospital rooms are, or will be, needed. However, most people needing medical care don’t need hospitalization. They need urgent care or they need to see a doctor for the care that can keep them from ending up in the hospital. I think the hospital is falling short in providing these services and the $50 million proposal will not address the problem.
Hospital officials agree that the island needs urgent care. But, nothing is being proposed to meet that need. They say ways to meet the need are being “investigated.” But finding a model that works, “in terms of cost and personnel,” is proving to be “difficult.”
The hospital’s stated mission, in part, is to serve “many citizens who don’t enjoy the benefits of adequate insurance coverage or easy access to healthcare.” Those benefits are to be provided through the hospital’s rural health clinics. However, the clinic in Langley was closed and new patients must wait more than a month to see a doctor at the Oak Harbor clinic. The wait at the clinic in Clinton is 10 to 14 days and limited to two new patients a day. I’m one of the people who had to go off island for care that couldn’t wait.
Clearly, the hospital doesn’t mind losing some patients to the off island competition. It sure looks like the bond proposal is aimed at big ticket items that bring in the big bucks.
The cost and timing of this $50 million bond request and resulting increase in property taxes is an issue. The projected increase in property taxes may not seem like much, but the financial hits add up. People are being laid off, furloughed, foregoing cost of living increases and losing benefits. The county saw delinquent tax notifications triple over the number from last year.
I support the public hospital and I don’t mind paying taxes for needed services that benefit others. We can all make sacrifices, just as some public officials have done by taking voluntary cuts in pay. Show me such sacrifices at Whidbey General Hospital along with some concrete plans to provide urgent care and much needed timely care through our clinics. Then I’d feel better about supporting this bond issue.