Grays Harbor Community Hospital surpassed its goal of collecting 2,000 signatures to place a proposal to form a public hospital district on an August ballot, and it has turned those signatures into the Grays Harbor County Auditor’s Office for approval.
The petition garnered a total of 3,150 signatures, said the hospital’s Director of Public Relations David Quigg. Only 1,502 valid signatures are required by the Auditor’s Office, but the hospital set a higher goal in case some of the signatures were thrown out.
“All in all, we were able to average about 450 signatures a day because of our volunteers,” said Quigg. “We’re so excited about the outpouring of support, from Westport to Montesano.”
The hospital, currently a private, non-profit institution, wants to become a public hospital to achieve greater financial stability, taking advantage of funding from the recently passed Sole Community Hospital Legislation. The legislation would help the hospital increase its reimbursement for Medicaid patients.
A move to a public hospital also gives Community Hosptial access to public funds, levied from the community. The hospital is currently planning to seek 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — the average tax rate for hospital districts — according to Quigg, who said they may potentially levy up to the maximum of what Quigg believed was 75 cents per $1,000. If the measure to form the public district passes, the board would have the ability to levy up that maximum without voter approval.
The hospital submitted the signatures to the County Commissioners, who then passed it on to the County Auditor Vern Spatz. Spatz, who said he continues to call the hospital’s schedule to place the request for approval on the August ballot “optimistic,” has 15 days to check the signatures. However, he said he and his staff should be done by the middle of the coming week, “if not sooner.”
The Auditor’s Office will need to go through the 220 petition sheets that it received in order to verify the signatures, said Spatz. But, he said, if that number is correct, it is unlikely that more than half of the signatures would be invalid. The petitions are checked for a few things: that the signatures are from a registered voter inside the district being proposed, that the signature matches the one on file and that there is an actual signature.
If there is a problem with the signatures, the hospital has 10 days to correct or amend the petitions. After that, Spatz would have another 15 days to re-check the signatures.
Once signatures are approved by Spatz, he issues a “Certificate of Sufficiency” to the commissioners who must then publish the petition for two weeks prior to hosting public hearings. The county may hold up to four public meetings. Spatz said they could potentially hold all of the meetings the same day, but that in order to “give the public the opportunity to come in and talk,” they would need to space them appropriately.
The commissioners must then pass a resolution that they will put the request to form the public hospital district and its board candidates before voters, and submit that to Spatz by May 9 for the Aug. 5 primary election.
The hospital’s steering committee for the formation of the public hospital district will now work to decide on whether the newly formed hospital board will be comprised of three, five or seven members.
Currently, the hospital’s board of directors consists of 12 community members.
If the public hospital district measure is approved, the district’s commissioners will serve six-year terms.
Sam Luvisi: 360-537-3935 or firstname.lastname@example.org and @Dw_Sluvisi on Twitter