Hospital district votes to consider new operator

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The Point Roberts hospital district board of commissioners have voted against automatically renewing SuperTrack’s contract to operate the local clinic on Benson Road. The board took action at a special meeting held on June 20 after it received an unsolicited offer by Deb and John Shields to operate the clinic. The district had until June 30 to notify SuperTrack that it was not automatically renewing the contract for another term.

At the district’s regular meeting on June 9, commissioners were presented with a proposal from Deb Shields, a physician’s assistant and previously one of the medical providers at the clinic, who stated that she and her husband, John, assistant Point Roberts fire chief, had formed the Shields Company and were prepared to present a bid to operate the clinic.

At that meeting, Shields offered an extensive preview of the services her company would provide for the community, including a network of collaborating consultants, telemedicine, 24/7 on-call coverage, a financial hardship program and a graduated rate structure, among others.

Commissioner Stephen Falk started the special meeting which was held virtually using Zoom meeting software by stating the purpose of the meeting was to “discuss and possibly come to a conclusion to not automatically renew SuperTrack’s contract effective January 1.” He pointed out that if commissioners didn’t reach a conclusion then the contract would automatically roll over into a new term at the beginning of the year, according to the terms of the agreement.

Fellow commissioner Richard Dennis clarified the nature of the discussion, saying, “We’re not talking about terminating the contract, we’re talking about allowing it to expire.” Addressing the comments that had been received by the district, Dennis said, “The test is, what’s best for the people who live in the district and use those services.”

At the prior district meeting, Dennis had twice asked Shields to provide some sort of assurance that her company had the financial ability to deliver on the promises she was making regarding the services that were being offered; Shields had declined but said she was prepared to do so in a formal bid proposal. Dennis had apparently come around to Shield’s point of view, saying, “I’m convinced that the services promised by the Shield Company are good,” and that the issue of financial wherewithal comes up “when contracts are being considered.” Citing the possibility that the present service supplier might not make a proposal, Dennis said, “We should try to get as many proposals as possible.”

Commissioner Kandy Harper followed Dennis’ remarks by saying, “I’m going to give you the short version. Our goal as commissioners is to keep the clinic going and to provide the best service to our patients.” Without elaborating, she said that she had “recently received new information” and wanted to have discussions with both service suppliers.

Speaking next, SuperTrack co-owner Dr. Sean Bozorgzadeh said, “I’m not sure this is a journey that Point Roberts people want to take and accept the risks with a company without a track record. … Please keep in mind that putting together a group and administration is not an easy thing. I think Point Roberts already experienced that in 2018.” Dr. Bozorgzadeh said the first year of their contract was essentially spent putting out fires and the second involved stabilizing the clinic’s operations. “Not knowing if we will or will not get the contract makes it difficult to plan” for the future, he concluded.

District superintendent Barb Wayland told the commissioners, “My concern is not whether or not the Shields are prepared to go ahead with the new company or whether SuperTrack can continue with their contract and bring in all of the things they’d like to have. It’s unfortunate that we’re in the middle of a pandemic which has limited what everyone can do … My concern is, from the standpoint of the contract, if SuperTrack were to choose not to re-bid and, I don’t know what SuperTrack would do, I’m just playing Devil’s advocate here, and if for any reason they chose not to re-apply, and if for any reason the Shield’s company was either not able to go forth or something happened financially and it didn’t work out – I know what we went through trying to get someone before because none of the major systems want to take on outlying clinics. We could end up having just one bid and it’s not a good bid and if it didn’t work out, we’d have no place to go. I think a year from now would have been a better time to consider this.

After considerable back and fro between commissioners and Zoom attendees, Falk queried Bozorgzadeh on whether SuperTrack would re-do a contract. Bozorgzadeh described the major resources his company possessed in personnel and infrastructure and the time spent building the SuperTrack team and said, “To dismantle that at this point, I don’t think that’s a good decision for the people of Point Roberts.”

The commission then voted unanimously to cancel the automatic renewal of the SuperTrack contract and scheduled another special meeting for June 20 to discuss the timetable for sending out requests for proposals to service providers. In that meeting, the commissioners agreed on an aggressive schedule to put out the bid on July 1 with a July 31 deadline and to choose a provider on August 18 with the contract signed by mid-September.

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