Hospital District Candidates Forum by Steve Wehrly

October 12, 2015 by islandersvoice1

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The second forum on October 6 for the candidates for the commission of San Juan County Hospital District #1 in the November 3 elections revealed a divide between three candidates who think the status quo is pretty good and three candidates who think changes need to be considered. There are two candidates for each of three positions on the commission.

The forum also brought out some testy exchanges about campaign tactics, specifically about the fact that a group of supporters of Monica Harrington, Barbara Sharp, and Bill Williams have planted signs and sent mailers asking that voters vote for all three.

The accusation was made that all three plan “to vote as a bloc” on the commission to force changes at Peace Island Medical Center (PIMC) or even to promote litigation against the Hospital District or the hospital regarding the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act and Death With Dignity Act, both approved as initiatives by large majorities of islanders.

Harrington, Sharp, and Williams denied they would promote litigation, instead insisting that their election would offer the best possibility of avoiding a lawsuit given their commitment to seeking a compromise. They also said that there would be no “bloc voting”; each insisted their campaign was their own and that each would act independently and cooperatively with the two incumbent commissioners to seek results that are in the best interests of the district that the commission serves. Sharp pointed out that the signs and mailers were the work of an independent third-party group supporting the three candidates on its own.

Williams said that he, Harrington, and Sharp had found “common ground” on several issues, and that he thought their diverse backgrounds would fit together to work with the other two commissioners to solve problems.

The “non-partisan” designation of the hospital commission election, and the issue of endorsements by the local Democratic Party and by Planned Parenthood, were also raised.

The only personal attack, not permitted under forum rules, was by Loftus claiming that Harrington, who is not her opponent, wrote a letter to the State asking it to deny the required certificate of need for the new hospital. Harrington strenuously denied this accusation.

Apparently, Bill Hancock, Jenny Ledford, and Michelle Loftus are concerned that Harrington, Sharp, and Williams want to make fundamental changes to the relationship between the Commission and PIMC in several ways. In turn, they are satisfied with the status quo.

One change that the Harrington, Sharp, and Williams do advocate is provision of more, and less expensive, urgent care for patients whose present alternatives are either expensive emergency care or untimely “walk in and wait” care.

Williams cited several instances that required patients to be admitted to PIMC as emergencies, at substantial cost, for relatively minor problems such as earaches. Two of their opponents insisted that the Commission had no power to address cost of service issues, but Hancock thought that the Commissioners could work with the hospital to reduce costs.

Compliance by PIMC with requirements of the Reproductive Privacy Act was also discussed by both sides. Harrington, Sharp, and Williams thought that possible contract amendments and negotiations, such as pursued by Jefferson County earlier this year, would be the best way to address provision of women’s health care services raised by the ACLU and a recent State Attorney General’s opinion.

In contrast with dissatisfaction with hospital costs and services expressed by the Harrington, Sharp, and Williams, all six agreed that EMS services were excellent, but that confidence in the sustainability and budgeting for the 2016 levy request needed to be augmented by careful budget review and improved communication with voters.

The large attendance at both forums was indicative of voter interesting in the elections, but, interestingly, only a few voters at both forums raised their hands to indicate that they were undecided whom they would support for the election.

The election of three of five Hospital District Commissioners has the potential to change the relationship between the District and PIMC. The meaning of the 66% majority won by Barbara Sharp in the three-way August primary may or may not be a harbinger of the November results.

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