By Meg Olson
In a bid to get away from acrimony and back to business, the Point Roberts Hospital District board did not take public comment at its last meeting.
“This is not our normal practice,” superintendent Elaine Komusi told the audience at their May 3 meeting. “Our normal practice is to allow five minutes per guest, but we will not be allowing this tonight in favor of getting business done.” Fire district commissioner Shannon Tomsen, who has had a series of run-ins over recent months with the hospital district, was present filming the meeting.
Instead of taking questions from the audience, Komusi said, she wanted to take the time to answer questions “floating around out there” in the community at large.
Komusi gave an overview of the relationship between the district and Unity Care Northwest, the nonprofit federally qualified health center that operates the Point Roberts Clinic. “After the establishment of the hospital district, we signed a service agreement with Interfaith in 2009,” she said, which later became Unity Care NW.
“Unity Care runs all aspects of the day-to-day operations for the clinic including all procedures and processes to run a medical practice,” Komusi said. This includes accounts payable for all operating expenses from payroll to medical supplies, pharmacy costs, software and professional licensing, malpractice insurance and all other costs.
“They pay those bills and those bills are in turn charged back to us,” she said. “The costs are between $30,000 and $32,000 per month.” This includes the salaries of nurse practitioner Natalié Davidson, two nurses and a receptionist.
The district pays Unity Care NW overhead costs to run the clinic of approximately $6,500 per month. Unity Care NW also handles billing and accounts receivable. “It is common that in organizations that have a centralized head office where support services are provided to its branches there is a fee charged to those branches,” Komusi said. These services include information technology, a 24-hour nursing support hotline, referral, billing and payroll services and procurement.
“In comparison of over 25 community health care centers in Washington state, Unity Care has the lowest overhead costs as a percentage of program service costs of similar health centers,” she said. “Some health care centers are as high as 46.6 percent, the median is 32 and Unity Care is charging its sites 26.7 percent.”
The total cost per month to run the clinic is approximately $38,000, which is covered from patient billing and tax revenue. Currently, the hospital collects $43.96 per year for $100,000 in assessed property valuation. “On my taxes I paid $86.36 to the hospital for an entire year,” Komusi said. “That’s $7 a month!”
As Unity Care NW has grown, she added, the clinic has been able to accept more insurance plans and is able to quickly refer patients to a wider variety of specialists. In addition, if local clinic staff is not available for work, qualified replacement personnel are available through Unity Care NW’s over 200 employees at its branches in Ferndale and Bellingham.
“We are proud of our partnership with Unity Care,” Komusi said. “Certainly broader services are a sign of that partnership. Between the dental treatment buses, retinal eye exams, health fairs and soon an expansion to behavioral health, I think this demonstrates our commitment to meeting more of the community needs.”
Komusi said she encouraged community members to email any questions to her at PRHD@whidbey.net so that the district would be prepared with answers when they resume their regular public comment period at their June 7 meeting.