By Pat Grubb
The first hospital district meeting since Unity Care NW’s announcement that it will not be renewing its service contract with the district lured more than the regular share of residents, many of whom expressed concern with the future of the Point Roberts clinic.
The meeting was held July 12, a week later than its regular schedule due to the Fourth of July holiday.
After board chair Dick Williams opened the floor for public comments, former district commissioner Robin Nault said she wanted to reiterate comments made in a statement by district superintendent Barbara Wayland regarding the Unity Care NW decision in which she had said that the district had considered the loss of the service provider. “I just wanted to reassure the public that we did consider being separate from Unity Care,” Nault said, going on to laud nurse practitioner Natalié Davidson for having “done some wonderful things and had been appreciated by many members of the public.”
Former nurse practitioner and fire commissioner Virginia Lester also asked to address the board. “I want to go back 16 years, I was recruited to open up a clinic here … I spent 10 years building and working at that clinic. I had a phone call today that really upset me which is really why I’m here. [The person] said that there were people in the community who were saying that I wanted the clinic to close. Let me tell you – that is the last thing I want and if that kind of information is being spread about, it’s the commissioners’ responsibility and fiduciary duty to be sure that the right message gets out to the public … We talked about running the clinic by ourselves two years before I retired and it’s a big, big job and responsibility to take on. But I think that’s possible. … I want everyone to realize that I have not badmouthed this clinic and I have not badmouthed Natalié and I will not. I want this clinic to be successful and if you can’t figure out a way to keep it open that would be a real sad thing.” Lester concluded by stating that she had no desire at her age to be involved in running the clinic.
Former superintendent Elaine Komusi provided the board with an executive summary of the public survey the district undertook beginning last November through February of this year. The analysis of the results had been delayed for a number of reasons including Komusi’s resignation and the recruitment and training of her replacement, Barbara Wayland, and the resignation and replacement of commissioner Robin Nault by Stephen Falk. (Look for an article on the survey in next week’s ePB.)
Wayland addressed the Unity Care NW decision to both the board and the audience. “In its decision, the board of Unity Care directed Unity Care to provide services for up to six months into 2019 if we request that they do so. While we are hopeful that we can accomplish a changeover within the timeframe of the current contract, we also know it is a big job and will likely take more than six months. Therefore, we are prepared to ask for this continuance if necessary,” she said, “research into options is beginning.”
Continuing, Wayland said, “Meanwhile, the clinic remains open with the same hours, services, and staff, and it is the intention of the hospital district that there be a smooth transition to a new service provider and that the people of Point Roberts can continue to depend on the clinic for health care on into the future.
The community has a vital role in the success of this. Simply stated, we need people to continue to utilize clinic services. Potential providers need to see that we need and use our clinic [and] that we depend on healthcare being available right here in Point Roberts. This is my biggest take home point and what I would hope you will share with others in the community.
I am sure you have many questions, and to be honest, it is early days yet and we are just beginning work on the answers. Some of you may have come tonight because you received a letter from Unity about the impending end of the contract and have questions about what that means. I hope my comments have made things somewhat clearer. Others have heard rumors and comments out in the community and are not sure what to believe. I salute all of you for taking the time to come here looking for information, and I invite you to future meetings. By working together and supporting our clinic, we can continue to have healthcare here in our town,” she concluded.
The text of the letter from Unity Care NW follows:
July 3, 2018
For over a decade, Unity Care NW has provided primary and urgent care medical services to the Point Roberts community through a contract with the Point Roberts Hospital District. After several months of thoughtful discussion, the Board of Directors of Unity Care NW has decided not to renew its contract with the Point Roberts Hospital District to provide clinical services in 2019 and beyond. We will maintain services and continue to care for our Point Roberts patients through the end of 2018.
This has been a difficult decision knowing the impact to our patients, the Point Roberts community, and staff. We thank our patients for entrusting us with their care, and our staff for the care and customer service provided to the community.
As a Federally Qualified Health Center, our mission is to break down barriers to primary care for underserved and disadvantaged populations. We take that mission seriously and have dedicated 10 years to trying to make the model work in Point Roberts, at times committing our own resources to fund deficits and expand services. We have found, however, that as a whole, Point Roberts’ patients are more likely to be commercially insured or covered through Medicare and are frequently only seeking urgent care from the clinic rather than primary care. This doesn’t align with our model as a Community Health Center and has created challenges to our approach to health care which could impact reimbursement and the sustainability of our services. Additionally, there has been significant community turmoil surrounding the Hospital District and clinic services that has consumed a great deal of administrative time and energy, proportionally far greater than the people served and visits provided.
With the start of construction on a major new facility in Ferndale which requires administrative resources and which, upon completion next year, will be able to accommodate those currently served in Point Roberts if they so choose, we have concluded that that hospital district has the opportunity now to find a contractor that is a better fit for the community.
Our current contract with the Point Roberts Hospital District expires at the end of the year. Unity Care NW will work with the hospital district to ensure as smooth of a transition as possible. If alternative solutions are not yet in place by year-end, we will consider operating the clinic on a month-to-month, short-term basis, provided we are still able to staff and financially sustain it.
We thank the Point Roberts community for the years of collaboration we have enjoyed.