MONTESANO —This August, voters living west of the Satsop River to the beaches will be asked to decide on the fate of Grays Harbor Community Hospital’s proposed hospital district.
And, if they vote it down, another ballot measure could be waiting on the November ballot to annex the areas of Montesano, Brady, Black Creek and Melbourne into Summit Pacific Medical Center.
The competing ballot measures come about as the county’s two hospitals follow up on plans that have been in place for months. Community Hospital boosters pushed forward with their own hospital district plans without conferring with the neighboring hospital district running Summit Pacific.
On a 2 to 1 vote, the county commissioners on Thursday approved the boundaries of Community Hospital’s proposed hospital district as originally presented. On the August ballot, voters will get to decide on whether the hospital district should exist and, at the same time, who they would want as their hospital district commissioners. The county decided to put seven total hospital commissioners on the ballot.
The decision came about following four public hearings, where dozens of people weighed in on the issue. There had been a specific push to remove North Beach from the proposal because of the potential tax burden property owners could face and to remove the Montesano area because of a desire to potentially annex it into the existing hospital district governing Summit Pacific Medical Center in Elma.
Later Thursday afternoon, hospital district commissioners representing Summit Pacific met for a strategic planning workshop and urged hospital administrators to proceed with their own annexation plans.
Although a formal resolution wasn’t approved, they directed Summit Pacific CEO Renée Jensen to work with staff to come up with the resolution for approval at a future meeting.
The proposal puts the future of health care in East County on two paths.
On one hand, Community Hospital will be advocating for voters to approve their ballot measure in August.
Between April and August, Summit Pacific plans to conduct workshops and public forums around the idea of annexing the Montesano area into its hospital district. The intention would be to file a resolution with the Auditor’s Office by Aug. 5 to get on the November ballot.
As it happens, Aug. 5 is also primary election day for Community Hospital’s proposed hospital district.
If the voters shoot Community Hospital’s plans down, then the annexation proposal by Summit Pacific will move forward without a hitch.
What happens if voters approve the new hospital district and, a couple of months later, approve the ballot measure for Summit Pacific? There’s some talk among Summit Pacific to see if they can withdraw their resolution before it ever ends up on the ballot, but there are legal questions about that.
“Community Hospital faces an uphill challenge and I’m not sure we should put all of our plans on hold,” Jensen told her board.
“We should include Montesano into our district and, after today, I still believe that is true,” Hospital Commissioner Chad Searls said.
New district’s boundaries
Summit Pacific officials had hoped it wouldn’t come to this and had asked the county commissioners to set aside the Montesano area from the proposed district, but they couldn’t convince two of the three commissioners to make the adjustment.
County Commissioner Wes Cormier had argued Thursday morning that Community Hospital’s proposed district should start off small with a district just including the city limits of Aberdeen, Cosmopolis and Hoquiam. For discussion purposes, Commissioner Herb Welch seconded the motion.
Commissioner Frank Gordon spoke against that proposal, noting that if someone in Ocean Shores has an emergency, they’ll end up going to Community Hospital to get help.
“We are giving the people of Ocean Shores a form of welfare,” Gordon said. “… We should all share the pain — and help pay the bill.”
“I understand that Community Hospital provides a service, but so does Harborview Medical Center,” Cormier said, noting that Harborview hasn’t requested to create a statewide hospital district to make everyone pay into it.
Cormier said that all three of his children have been born at Grays Harbor Community Hospital — and he paid for it using his insurance. Others pay for their medical care out-of-pocket. And, people from Elma use Community Hospital, even though they have their own public hospital district, he pointed out.
“I wouldn’t call those people freeloaders,” Cormier said.
Cormier’s proposal was shot down on a 2-1 vote with only Cormier voting in favor of it. Gordon and Welch then voted to approve the hospital district boundaries as they were originally drawn, with Cormier voting against.
The hospital district will go to the ballot with five distinct districts — and each district will be represented by one hospital commissioner. There will also be two at-large positions for a total of seven hospital commissioners on the ballot.
The commissioners unanimously approved the idea of five districts within the boundaries of the hospital district. But the idea of adding two at-large positions was approved on a 2-1 vote. Cormier said he thought the at-large positions would give the Aberdeen area a greater voice since there were more voters present. He voted against it.
Gordon and Welch said the at-large positions would allow greater flexibility in finding people to serve on the board, including a board member or two who may have medical knowledge.
Auditor Vern Spatz says he’s finishing off the boundaries for the district. The filing period for those interested in running will be a three-day period from May 14 to May 16 at the end of the typical filing period for offices up for election in November. Spatz said he’ll distribute the maps for the potential districts as soon as possible so those interested in running will know their districts.
To represent a specific district, residents must live there. Residents can live anywhere in the boundaries of the proposed hospital district to run for the at-large seats.
The draft documents show the following:
• District 1 includes Montesano, Brady, Satsop and much of Central Park
• District 2 includes South Aberdeen and the South Beach area
• District 3 includes North Beach, Taholah and Lake Quinault
• District 4 includes Hoquiam and the Wishkah Valley
• District 5 includes the rest of Aberdeen
Spatz said the district boundaries may change over the next few days. There were questions as to whether Aberdeen could fit into just one district.
Commissioner Welch called on residents to “pay close attention” to who runs for hospital commissioner and make sure it’s someone who represents a voter’s particular values.
“Ask them the hard questions,” Welch said.