OK, I know that most of you were having a ton of fun upriver at the chautauqua on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a few of us dull, serious types were standing along College Way in Mount Vernon waving signs to protest an increasing monopoly on regional health care by Catholic-affiliated institutions. For several of us, it had been quite a while since we last participated in a protest,so it was fun to be at it again.
After an hour of waving signs and getting supportive horn honks – plus a few middle fingers and thumbs down – we went to the well-attended forum in McIntyre hall. It was sponsored by the commissioners of the three hospital districts that are actually speaking to each other, namely Island in Anacortes, Skagit in Mount Vernon, and Cascade Valley in Arlington. This forum offered a unique opportunity to hear from their potential partners, the “secular” Swedish/Providence mega-system (trust me, no one really believed their secular claim); the UW/Harborview/Valley/Northwest/Stevens mega-system with its somewhat more convincing claims that it remains secular; the PeaceHealth mega-system, which is taking over United General, making “arrangements” with the UW, and claims to be abiding by their own interpretation of the Bishops’ health care rules which shouldn’t scare us in the least; and lowly little Virginia Mason which is definitely secular but has a mere 450 doctors on staff.
If you share my disdain for PowerPoint, or at least the way it’s used in meetings nowadays, you would have welcomed the fresh air of the presentation by Dr. Gary Kaplan, CEO and physician at Virginia Mason. Yes, he had slides, but they didn’t contain boring bulleted lists of too much verbiage. He had diagrams and pictures that supported a compelling presentation. If you think that boring PowerPoint and bigness are the solution to all of our problems, then you would want the commissioners to choose Swedish/Providence, PeaceHealth, or the UW with the UW being the least Catholic of the three (if we can trust what they say about their arrangement with PeaceHealth). If you think big doesn’t solve everything, then you’d want serious consideration of the Virginia Mason proposal.
Full discosure: We have used Virginia Mason for all our health care except emergencies for nearly 20 years. It is not perfect, but we like the scale of VMMC, and when we’ve had problems, we’ve been able to resolve them within the system. We’ve seen changes over the years, so it was interesting to listen to Dr. Kaplan describe how deliberate many of those changes have been. He talked about a variety of efforts to make VM work for both providers and patients. It was an interesting presentation, my eyes didn’t glaze over, and I think a lot of people in the audience felt that he spoke to concerns that many of us have about health care today.
Meanwhile, I have plenty of friends up here who’d rather die than go to Seattle, others who’ve nearly died and been airlifted to Seattle, some who work at picking the “best” doctors between Providence, PeaceHealth, Swedish, Overlake, the UW, or Virginia Mason, some who are lucky to be able to see any doctor at all, some who only go to alternative types of providers, and others who go wherever Group Health sends them. What do these potential affiliates offer all these varieties of health care consumers?
It’s possible that these affiliations will enable people to get more services within Skagit County. It’s possible that closer connections with other organizations will bring expertise and insight to local providers that will work to our benefit. It’s possible that sharing services that already exist elsewhere will help control costs. Or it’s possible that we will all just be driving even further for care.
It’s well known that Skagit Regional Health believes in driving business to its campus in Mount Vernon. Will this experience with new partners do anything to temper its desire to dominate Skagit health care? Doubtful. But at least one potential partner, VM, has worked hard to manage egos that interfere with patient safety and good decision making. Could this expertise help address the chronic ill-will that has plagued Skagit health care for many years? One can hope.
As a citizen who lives within hospital district #304, it was disappointing that the commissioners only recognized audience speakers from within the three districts who sponsored the forum. Do they recognize the fact that everyone who lives upriver has a vested interest in their decisions? I’ve been taken by ambulance from United General to Skagit Valley, had follow up care at Skagit Valley, know many people who get care there because certain things are not available at United General. If Skagit is going to call itself, Skagit Regional Health, it might do well to listen to the concerns of its many upriver customers.