A hard sell to convince Montesano residents to favor proposed hospital district

MONTESANO — Brady residents Mick and Samdra Jones say they don’t understand why Grays Harbor Community Hospital wants a hospital district with boundaries stretching from their home in East County out to the beaches. It could add a couple hundred dollars to their tax bill — even though they don’t use the hospital and prefer to use neighboring Summit Pacific Medical Center in Elma or drive to Olympia.

After an hour-long forum at Montesano City Hall Monday night with hospital staff and administrators, they’re still not convinced.

“Let it go bankrupt,” said Mick. “Let it go bankrupt, re-organize and get the debt under control without raising my taxes.”

“Why drive 20 miles to Aberdeen when I could drive five miles to Elma?” Samdra asked.

Reaction to the proposed hospital district was a mixed bag, with members of the public questioning how much money the hospital stands to make — and what the county would ultimately lose if Grays Harbor Community Hospital were to go under. About the only ones who spoke positively about the hospital district were economic development leaders, doctors and hospital staff. Many others remained quiet, some still confused about everything when the forum was over.

Community Hospital CEO Tom Jensen said he knew it would be a hard sell for the 60 or so residents that attended the forum. But, he noted that turning Community Hospital, which is currently a non-profit, but private entity, into a publicly owned facility is the only way for it to survive. That’s because it would garner a higher Medicaid reimbursement rate from the state, thanks to recently approved state legislation contingent on it being a public hospital district; and by using the new property tax authority that would come with the designation.

The proposal has to be approved by voters and will likely be on the August ballot. But issues involving the hospital boundaries and the number of hospital commissioners voters will choose to run the district must be settled on by the county commissioners. It’s their responsibility to put the issue on the ballot after Community Hospital successfully turned in enough signatures to qualify.

“If you want your hospital to stay in the same condition it is today, this has to happen,” Jensen told the forum.

Former Montesano councilman Ron Malizia questioned why Montesano was included in the proposed boundaries. He said that his father had the same question — and it’s a question he has continually heard ever since the proposal was announced.

Referring to Summit Pacific, a smaller hospital in Elma, Jensen said, “You are served by both, depending on what services are needed,” Jensen replied, adding that Community Hospital can help in higher levels of trauma and heart attacks, while Monte residents who break a leg or sprain a finger could visit either hospital’s emergency room.

“This is not us versus them,” he replied. “We offer different services.”

“Why not let your hospital go bankrupt and pick up the pieces?” Mick Jones told them.

“Who’s to say you won’t be back in another two years for more money?” another man asked.

“Quit taxing us out of our homes,” yet another man shouted out.

Dr. Brent Rowe said that Community Hospital may not be a public hospital yet, but it’s practically run by the government already with federal guidelines and rules directing everything the hospital does. A benefit to being a hospital district is that the public would get to elect hospital commissioners so that the public has a voice in everything.

Dr. Robert McCauley said that members of the public may think allowing the hospital to go bankrupt is a good idea, but he thinks it would be devastating to the community, adding that it would mean more and more transfers of services and longer wait times in neighboring hospitals.

McCauley cited the work of Dr. Rowe, a surgeon, in the emergency room that saved the life of a young Montesano area girl recently, who may very well have died while being transferred to another hospital. The situation was so dire, McCauley said, that she needed surgery right then and there.

Lives are lost during transfers, Rowe added.

Greater Grays Harbor, Inc. CEO Tim Gibbs says it’s hard enough to attract quality businesses to come to this area. If there’s no hospital in Aberdeen not only would 650 jobs or so be lost, “but it’s another strike against us as we’re trying to attract businesses here.”


Community Hospital will conduct more meetings on the subject:

* Tuesday, April 22, from 6:30 to 7:30 in the Hoquiam High School Commons

* Wednesday, April 23, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Aberdeen High School Commons

* Friday, April 25, from noon to 1 p.m. at Grays Harbor Community Hospital in conference room C

* Monday, April 28, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at North Beach High School.

The county commissioners will also conduct formal public hearings on the matter to specifically question the number of hospital district commissioners that will be on the ballot and the proposed boundaries:

The hearings are at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday, May 5, and 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 7. All hearings take place at the County Administration Building in the first floor commission chambers in Montesano.


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