County takes shot at funding for giving vaccines

The Board of Island County Commissioners has decided to use 2018 to reevaluate the public health immunization program, which may include cutting the program altogether.

Commissioners Jill Johnson and Rick Hannold said at a budget discussion meeting Wednesday that they felt immunizations should fulfilled by WhidbeyHealth, not the county.

“Why aren’t we just walking away and saying now you (the hospital) have the responsibility to do the work?” Johnson asked at the meeting.

At another recent budget meeting, commissioners also suggested the hospital should be more involved in home visits to new mothers and their babies currently provided as part of the public health’s maternal child services program.

The cost of administering the vaccines is more than is reimbursed by Medicaid and private insurance. The difference is offset by the county’s current expense funding. Public health requested $21,000 in current expense money for the program for 2018.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson suggested partnering with pharmacies to provide more immunizations.

“My train of thought is that other providers of immunizations are the pharmacies that are in our neighborhoods, and if that is working for almost everybody in our system, maybe we just need to do a little augment to that system rather than try and to do a complete overhaul of this one delivery,” Price Johnson said.

She later also pointed out that WhidbeyHealth doesn’t provide services on Camano, so if the hospital was relied upon for immunizations that island wouldn’t be receiving them.

Immunizations have traditionally been administered by county public health departments, Keith Higman, health services director, said during the meeting.

“I think that what we have to do is recognize that the world’s changed, and we may be out of this business model now,” said Johnson.

In 2016, the county administered vaccines to 350 people, with 75 for tuberculosis, 198 for children and the remainder for other services including Hepatitis A and B vaccines.

Hannold and Johnson both said they believe the county spent too much money to serve a small portion of the population.

After a previous budget discussion, the board had asked Higman to assess the feasibility of narrowing the immunization program to only tuberculosis and children’s vaccines. Higman said at Wednesday’s meeting that fees from adult travel vaccines are the source of over 60 percent of the program’s collected revenue, and the proposed program cut would also take away access to this revenue.

“My recommendation to you is all or nothing,” he told the commissioners.

The commissioners agreed to fund the program for 2018, but Hannold and Johnson both said they would likely not support it beyond next year.

“I’m in for a year,” said Johnson. “I’m not in after that”