On Vashon Island, voters are deciding whether to create a special hospital district. It wouldn’t be used to build an actual hospital, but rather to subsidize a primary care clinic on the island and possibly bring other health care services there. Like other rural areas, Vashon Island struggles to provide basic health care.
John Jenkel sits on the board of Neighborcare, which operates the primary care clinic on Vashon Island and is with the campaign in favor of the measure, on the ballot as King County Public Hospital District No. 5 Proposition 1. He points out there’s no hospital or urgent care clinic on Vashon and the one primary care clinic is having trouble meeting making ends meet.
“Well if it fails I think you’re likely to see the clinic out here close. And I don’t see another entity having any incentive to come out here and run it," Jenkel said.
He said rural areas like Vashon, which is only accessible by ferry, have a hard time keeping primary care providers because insurance reimbursement rates don’t cover costs. He said a taxing district makes sense because it helps make up that cost by spreading it among the entire population. If the measure passes, a homeowner of a $500,000 home would pay about $225.
Hilary Emmer, who works with low income residents, is against creating a hospital district. She said it wouldn’t be affordable for people who already have a hard time paying their property taxes. And, she says, “we don’t know what we’re voting on.”
Emmer points out that, under Washington law, a special purpose hospital district is given a lot of latitute about how it spends the tax money. She said although the campaign was initially about helping out the primary care clinic, lately there’s been talk of adding other services, such as urgent care.
Emmer said that's a mistake and is indicative of people who’ve moved to Vashon to get away from the city but still want city-level services. She said people say if they cut their finger, they want to have “walk-in service.” But, she said, “It’s not feasible. Everyone says we don’t have the population for that."
Vashon's population is 10,000.
Proponents of the hospital district say there will be plenty of opportunities for the public to have input on what health care services the tax money is spent on. And, they say, commissioners for the district will be elected by the public.
In 2006, a similar measure to create a hospital district on Vashon Island was defeated.