Unity Care NW decides against contract renewal

Above: the open public records request submitted by Shannon Tomsen on May 18. Superintendent Barbara Wayland told the All Point Bulletin that “fulfilling the request has been troublesome. We have spent many hours in multiple meetings with multiple people. The entire staff has spent many, many hours putting this together.”


By Meg Olson and Pat Grubb

Unity Care NW is done with the Point Roberts clinic.

Citing declining use, a disproportionate administrative burden and “community turmoil,” the board of directors of the non-profit health care provider voted at its June 25 meeting to discontinue the contract to operate the Point Roberts Clinic.

Notice was delivered to the Point Roberts hospital district on June 26 that Unity Care NW would end its contract to provide services on the Point as of December 31, 2018, but would provide services on a month-to-month basis if needed until June 30, 2019 and help with a possible transition to an alternative service provider.

According to the June 25 resolution, the Point Roberts Clinic does not fit with the other clinics Unity Care NW operates in Ferndale and Bellingham, which it described as “patient centered medical homes.” Close to half of the visits to the Point Roberts clinic are for urgent care, and not for primary medical care,
according to Unity Care.

The number of people being served at the Point Roberts Clinic, as well as the number of visits, have been declining, according to the resolution. The number of visits per year shrank from 1176 to 1033 between 2015 and 2017, which is described as “well below average provider productivity.”

“The administrative time and energy required to maintain this remote clinic is proportionately far greater for the people served and the visits provided,” the resolution states, comparing other Unity Care NW clinics.

The Unity Care NW board in its decision also cited “increasing community turmoil regarding the performance of the hospital district and the services contracted through Unity Care NW” as another reason to pull out of operating the clinic.

Hospital district superintendent Barbara Wayland said they were already moving ahead with preparations for the transition. “As an organization, the hospital district has always been alert to the possibility of Unity Care not renewing its annual contract and we have already started on the process to take whatever steps are needed to ensure the clinic’s continuation,” she said.

In a statement sent to the All Point Bulletin, Unity Care NW board president Melvin De Jong wrote, “The staff at the Point Roberts clinic have provided excellent care and service to the people in Point Roberts. We thank them for their service. We understand the impact that this decision will have on our Point Roberts staff. We also thank the patients in Point Roberts who have trusted us with their care … the Point Roberts Hospital District will work to contract with a new provider of care to continue services on the Point. Unity Care will work with the hospital district to assure a smooth transition of care to the new provider.”

While the possibility of Unity Care not re-newing its contract never came up, some of the issues cited by the board were raised at the hospital district’s regular June 14 meeting at which Unity Care chief operating officer Shanon Hardie presented the quarterly report for January through March 2018.

Addressing the issue of patient counts, she pointed out that while the Point Roberts clinic has about 1,000 patient visits a year, the other two Unity Care clinics do about 80,000. Hardie also pointed out that approximately 50 percent of the patients coming to the local clinic are seeking urgent care, a much higher proportion than what Unity Care sees in Bellingham and Ferndale.

Outgoing district superintendent Elaine Komusi had some words of caution at her last official meeting.

Addressing the public survey that the hospital district did last year, she said, “The survey that we did, it was also on the list of the public records request … these two people (Shannon Tomsen and her husband Vic Riley) were going to … get a copy of that data and that has come true … There’s a tremendous amount of valuable data in there, there’s some wonderful compliments, some really great suggestions and … unfortunately, there’s some pretty harsh negative feedback. It will end up on the Small Point Bulletin and that will do us damage and we have to be prepared for that. It’s very unfortunate. It’s damaging people, it’s damaging reputations and I’m very worried about how it’s going to be posted there along with any assumptions that are going to be made.”

Hardie had also commented on the survey, saying, “I was in support of it because I thought it was a great opportunity for us to see if there were things we could do as an organization differently to provide service better to the community and that’s what I really hoped the goal was. But to do this? That tells me that that wasn’t the intent and unfortunately that’s disappointing to me because it was suggested by a community member and not by a member of the board and I thought that was a really good sign of this particular board’s perspective and ours to be totally willing to do that because we wanted to learn and I feel a little bit duped that it was done intentionally to point fingers and that is not healthy and I don’t think it’s the point at all of getting community feedback. … From our perspective as an organization, I don’t think we would be supportive of doing this again.”

The idea of doing a community survey had been suggested by Vic Riley who, along with his wife Shannon Tomsen, has been engaged in a two-person campaign against the hospital district since last year.

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