MONTESANO — A slew of Ocean Shores and Montesano area residents asked the county commissioners on Monday to carve their areas out of the potential hospital district being spearheaded by Grays Harbor Community Hospital.
Backers of a proposed hospital district centered in Aberdeen successfully turned in a petition last month to encompass all areas west of Elma into their district. At this point, the county commissioners’ only choice in the matter is deciding whether to accept the proposed boundaries or draw new ones, and how many elected commissioners should sit on the hospital district board. If a resolution is approved by Friday, it will be on the August ballot.
The county can rule that parts of the proposed boundaries are “unreasonable,” “unjust” or simply inconvenient to “the general welfare” and conducted two public hearings on Monday, one in the afternoon that drew about 70 people and another one in the evening, which drew about 40 people. County Commissioners Frank Gordon and Wes Cormier were in attendance. Commissioner Herb Welch was excused.
Two more public hearings are set — 9 a.m., Wednesday and 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, both in the commission chambers at the County Administrative Building in Montesano. The county has been preparing various alternatives so that a decision could be possible Wednesday night, Gordon said.
“Our vote is worthless,” said Randy Peck of Ocean Shores. Peck argued that even if everyone in Ocean Shores shot the district down, the people in Aberdeen and Hoquiam could turn out in large numbers to approve the hospital district and Ocean Shores would still be stuck. He said people in Ocean Shores would only make up 8.5 percent of the population in the proposed district, but because property values are higher, they would pay 20 percent of the taxes.
“We want more,” he added. “We want our right of determination.”
Peck argued that the North Beach should not be in the proposed hospital district, and that the district should “start small” and later try to annex the North Beach as a “growth area.” That way, residents will have more of a say.
A similar argument was made for the Montesano area, which neighboring Summit Pacific Medical Center sees as its own “growth area” for its existing hospital district.
Joy Iversen, a Summit Pacific employee, told commissioners she thought Montesano and Brady should eventually be part of Summit Pacific’s boundaries.
“We feel they’re already our patients,” Iversen said.
Summit Pacific’s strategic plan calls for growth in the Montesano area, including a potential clinic that could house three new providers to serve the community. Summit Pacific’s elected board of commissioners had authorized Summit Pacific CEO Renée Jensen to speak for the hospital at the county hearings this week. But Jensen said she ultimately decided against that idea, conveying her message in written comments. She also had spoken individually with each county commissioner.
“They know what I think and I think there’s been enough conflict about this discussion already,” Jensen said. “We need to be one community at the end of all this.”
“Making this decision should be based on creating a win-win for Summit Pacific Medical Center, Grays Harbor Community Hospital, and all health care providers in Grays Harbor County,” Jensen’s memo states. “By looking to the future and ensuring both entities are viable, stable, and supported by the community it will ensure a full spectrum of health care for the entire county.” Summit Pacific opposes including Montesano in the new district.
Gina Rawlings of Ocean Shores said she had concerns about the North Beach in the hospital district, but Montesano, too, noting there’s a potential to “make economic damage to the existing (Summit Pacific) hospital district.”
Mick Jones of Brady turned in a petition with dozens of names on it requesting that Brady be excluded from the hospital district. Montesano Mayor Ken Estes submitted a letter from he and his wife Kathi both requesting that Montesano be excluded.
“The proposed boundary, as drawn by Community Hospital, is arbitrary, will affect lives and definitely affects choice by the residents of this area,” Estes wrote. “Community Hospital, as a taxing district, will only tax and increase taxes to make up for their continued shortfall and give us less than Hospital District 1. It will even create financial danger to junior taxing districts. We have no problem with Grays Harbor Community Hospital creating a district; however, we have a problem with their process not being fair and equitable to the east fringe of their forced boundary.”
Vincent Stevens of Ocean Shores argued for the hospital to “abandon this plan” altogether, noting that he would rather see Community Hospital collapse or be bought out by the Providence Health systems in Olympia.
Gene Stevens of Ocean Shores said that Community Hospital has done a horrible job in its outreach efforts in recent years, talking about adding a clinic at Ocean Shores, but not doing so.
“To have to pay a levy and get no return on investment doesn’t make sense,” she added.
Dale Hensley, a former fire commissioner from Fire District 2, said that no matter what happens, the proposed hospital district should not split the fire district in half. The boundaries should run contiguous with the fire district or else it will make it more challenging for the fire district to do its budget forecasting.
“I would beg you, I would get on my knees if I could,” Hensley told the commissioners.
Lillian Broadbent of Ocean Shores said she wasn’t a fan of a potential property tax that could be imposed by a new hospital district. It could add up to as much as 75 cents per thousand on an assessed property. “You commissioners can help us out a little by taking out the levy shift,” she told them, referring to an extra property tax city residents have been paying the past three years.
Dr. Brent Rowe told the commissioners Monday evening that if voters don’t support the hospital district, “if the hospital goes away, nobody is rolling out the red carpet” for residents here.
He added that the current hospital boundaries make sense because even patients who go to Summit Pacific Medical Center sometimes end up at Community Hospital any way, citing a recent patient who went to the Elma hospital for a burst appendix and got the surgery done in Aberdeen.
“Ocean Shores wants more services,” adds John Warring, who works at the hospital and is the president of the Twin Harbors Labor Council. “The more viable a hospital is, the more services it can provide. I don’t believe they have the population to support its own hospital.”
Besides boundaries, the commissioners are also considering how many hospital commissioners should be on the ballot and how to appropriate the commissioners.
Most who testified on Monday preferred five or seven commissioners with several at large positions and a few dedicated to specific districts.