In 2013 a group of Islanders led by Tag Gornall, formed the Vashon Maury Health Collaborative and set out to investigate and improve access to quality healthcare and its delivery on Vashon. It was a time of change – one by one private medical practices were closing on the Island, victims of the rising costs of providing care, reduced reimbursements from insurance, increased costs processing insurance claims and the new mandates requiring electronic record keeping. The Vashon Health Center, then operated by Highline Medical Center, continued to lose money and was being absorbed by Franciscan Health Services. The VMHC was concerned by the complete control external providers had over Island-based healthcare. The group was also concerned about where the community would be left in the event Franciscan discontinued operations at the clinic.
VMHC members met with the remaining private providers and clinic operators to consider creating a community owned medical facility capable of housing the Island’s medical providers under one roof – in a new building that met current and future medical practice needs. While that project was deemed at the time, it did serve to open communication between the VMHC and providers. As a result, when Franciscan did decide to cease Island operations, they were willing to share operational data with VMHC. Using that data, VMHC approached other large providers to determine interest in coming to the Island to re-open the clinic.
UW Physicians, Swedish, MultiCare, HealthPoint and Neighborcare Health all reviewed the data, looked at the Sunrise Ridge site, and met with VMHC. Each of them recognized that they would lose money. One provider was willing to consider becoming the provider IF the community would cover their annual losses – and pay for necessary facility upgrades and equipment – the price tag was $1,000,000 to re-open the clinic and $500,000 annual underwriting by the community to offset anticipated losses. As a Federally Qualified Health Center, Neighborcare had a different approach (see explanation of FQHC under “Your Questions Answered” tab). Neighborcare proposed to re-open the clinic with the community providing a sum equal to the estimated losses expected to be incurred in the first two years of operation. Generous Islanders donated funds in the amount to cover those estimated losses and funds for x-Ray equipment for the clinic. Neighborcare brought over equipment and staffing and made necessary upgrades to the building – and after a six-week closure, the clinic re-opened!
It would be lovely to have this be the “happily ever after” ending, but it’s not. Reimbursements from insurance continue to drop, costs continue to rise, and the gap between the cost of providing care and the reimbursement to Neighborcare for providing that care continues to grow. Last year, in spite of cost cutting measures, the losses continued, just as they have with all previous providers. The only way for this to end well is for the Island to step up and fund sustainable, Island-controlled healthcare through formation of a Public Health Care District (aka a Hospital District). We all have a stake in this outcome – and a share in meeting the need.