The race for Jefferson County Hospital District Commissioner is perhaps the most contentious ballot position open this coming fall. With three candidates, a primary will be held with ballots being shipped out on July 12th. Much is at stake, as the Hospital District is facing enormous challenges in the next few years with anticipated cutbacks by the Republican controlled Congress and President Trump. Medicare and Medicaid cuts loom, which supply a large percentage of the hospital districts’ reimbursals. So looking towards a new Hospital District Commissioner is important, as they will likely be leading work guiding the hospital administration forward in whatever changes are in store.
With those concerns in mind, that’s why a full house of approximately 20 people showed up for a Hospital District Commissioner candidate forum held by the Jefferson Citizens Healthcare Access group (CHA). CHA is a subgroup of Local2020 and is made up of concerned individuals and representatives of community groups, such as Indivisible PT Huddle, Jefferson County Health Department, The Olympic Community of Health, the hospital administration, ex-healthcare industry professionals as well as others. These representatives were there on behalf of many dozens of other county citizens, patients and providers.
The three candidates all fielded a wide range of questions on their backgrounds, why they feel they are the right candidates, beliefs in priorities and goals for the county hospital district. The CHA group spent one and a half hours with the candidates, which gave plenty of time to let them introduce themselves to the audience and explain their positions.
All three candidates have significant backgrounds in community health issues for Jefferson County and long time involvement in the community.
Cheri Van Hoover who lives in the Chimicum area, brings the longest record of actually providing healthcare to patients, as a Registered nurse, ARNP, midwife, and mental health clinic counselor. She also teaches healthcare policy for Philadelphia College and has written award winning articles on midwifery & women’s healthcare. She has run several small businesses over 40 years.
Bruce McComas brings the most background in corporate management from his experience managing the mill and it’s hundreds of employees. This included working on providing healthcare for the employees. He also is currently involved in volunteer hospital committees exploring issues relevant to patient access and quality control. He was a member of the PT school board between 1993 and 2000. He was voted “Citizen of the Year” in 2008. He currently works for a management consulting firm. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration.
Bernie Donanberg brings significant mental healthcare management experience both here on the Peninsula and on the north I-5 corridor. He has a master’s degree in psychology and worked as a child therapist. He stated that he was bringing experience that could help with the upcoming purchase of the Discovery Behavioral Healthcare, as he has been a clinical director in the past. He expressed concern about the lack of co-location of mental health from the hospital. He is retired.
There were few surprises in the forum. Ms. Van Hoover and Mr. Donanberg expressed support for Single Payer Health Care while Mr. McComas said he supports universal healthcare. Ms Van Hoover pointed out that it was not likely to be an issue that the local Commissioners would be able to help implement a single payer system without state wide support.
Mr. Donanberg’s response to questions on his support of universal healthcare coverage was that he had questions about how to achieve the goal given funding levels. He then suggested that we could look to implement some kind of universal funding by having the county run an “insurance pool”. Further details need to be supplied to help us understand that idea.
Ms. Van Hoover stated that she did not see a way for the county to provide this kind of funding level in some kind of insurance pool.
Mr. McComas stated he didn’t have an answer to how create Universal Coverage, and reinforced that by saying that even the best minds in politics hadn’t yet either, but he thought it could be implemented by looking to “quality improvements” as a way to lower costs.
When asked about what he as a commissioner could bring to the table, Mr. McComas stated, “How do you do more with less.” He provided no details about what areas of the hospital might be looked at on this issue. Mr. McComas stated that he saw the role as overseeing performance, financial oversight and customer advocacy. He said that safety, quality of service and affordability were his main concerns.
Ms. Van Hoover stressed that the Commissioner role was not a management role, but a role of guidance and policy, two of her strengths. She said that she would bring more adherence to public process and discussion on all topics. She expressed concern with the lack of public input some of the current commissioners seemed to feel was adequate.
Perhaps the biggest difference mentioned over the issue of what could be an issue added to the Commissioners portfolio was when asked the same question Mr. Donanberg stated that he would have the Commissioners look into the issue of early childhood immunizations. He stated he does not support infant vaccinations around the time of birth, saying it was “wrong and that there are other methods of supporting immunization.” He admitted he did not immediately vaccinate his own children, but offered no scientific reasons as to why the community should support that. The other two candidates did not agree with that stand. It was pointed out that Jefferson County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the State, putting us at risk of an outbreak of diseases that are addressed by vaccinations.
Concerns were raised over rising prescription costs, but no candidate really came up with a solution to it that they supported. Mr. McComas stated that “I really am not knowledgeable on this issue.” Ms. Van Hoover said that she was concerned with rising prescription costs but did not see a way to solve the problem locally. She was more concerned with a lack of prescription delivery service in the south county as a local issue that could be addressed. She wondered whether the hospital district could look into better methods of delivery of medications with the Quilcene Clinic. Her concern was forcing patients to drive to Port Townsend to fill prescriptions. Mr. Donanberg stated that buying via the Internet and other bulk buying options existed and should be further explored.
Additional concerns were raised by Ms. Van Hoover over the ongoing lack of primary care professionals and the turnover of many in the near past. She said she would focus on working with the hospital on retention and recruitment issues. None of the other candidates addressed this issue.
When asked about the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), a multiyear effort by the Hospital District to set healthcare goals, only Ms. Van Hoover had input on areas that could be improved on it, which she outlined were around a potential lack of continuing efforts to reduce teen pregnancy. The county alone has done a great job at lowering teen pregnancy but not including it in CHIP goals concerned her.
Mr. McComas stated that the CHIP was “very ambitious” and that the Hospital Commissioners were only “one part” of the effort. He offered no areas of it he would change.
Jul. 12: Ballots mailed
Jul. 24: Deadline for in-person registration – only for those not registered in WA State
Aug. 1: Election Day (Results at 8:00 p.m.)
Web Presence/More info:
There is no web site for Bernard Donanberg. He will rely on the voter’s pamphlet mailed to county voters in a couple of weeks.
Web site of Cheri Van Hoover – https://www.facebook.com/Cheri-Van-Hoover-for-Community-Health-1879516315656505/
Web site of Bruce McComas – http://brucemccomas.org/