Clinic Meeting Addresses Community’s Concerns and Questions

Which hospitals are possible new partners for Lopez Clinic? Could our clinic become completely independent? What is a hospital levy? Why is one being considered now? How much will a levy cost me if it passes?

One hundred and fifty people attended a 2-hour Lopez Clinic information meeting at Lopez Center on Sunday, January 22 to get answers to these questions and more.  It was the community’s first opportunity to meet, discuss and ask questions since Island Hospital notified the Clinic/CWMA last September that they would discontinue their affiliation with Lopez Clinic effective June 30, 2017.  Since hearing from Island Hospital, Dr. Wilson, plus Marty Clark, Christa Campbell and Charlie Janeway, all members of the CWMA board, and Lopez resident Peggy Means have been on a committee exploring options.

“We knew we didn’t have all the answers yet, but we wanted to put everything we knew out there,” said Dr. Wilson. “These are complicated issues, and the more we understand them as a community, the better. We were really pleased with the great turnout.” The meeting was recorded and is available on the Clinic/CWMA website in the three topic sections: www.lopezislandmedical.org and on this blog.

Peggy Means, whose 35 years of experience in healthcare management includes negotiating contract agreements, spoke first about the current healthcare developments. Dr. Wilson addressed the search for a new clinic partner and Christa Campbell, CWMA board vice president, introduced the proposed public hospital district.

Healthcare Environment Affects Lopez Search

While Lopez Clinic would look very attractive to potential partners under normal circumstances, uncertainty on both national and state levels are making large healthcare organizations cautious about making changes right now. “Unanswered questions about possible changes in Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act are causing hospitals, clinics and insurance providers to hunker down, cut costs, hoard cash and figure out who their key constituents are,” stated Peggy. “This was a factor in causing some potential partners to say no to us right now.”

Update on Partner Search for Lopez Clinic

Dr. Wilson reported that of the seven organizations originally contacted about partnering with Lopez Clinic, one remains a solid candidate. Because of confidentiality agreements, he was not able to release the name. If a letter of interest is signed, the name will immediately be announced.

While that partnership is being pursued, the committee is also looking into becoming an independent clinic. “We are looking closely at every option right now, and going independent is one,” said Dr. Wilson. “Basically we’re going down two parallel paths: partnership and independence.”  The speakers made it clear that while the search for a new clinic operation model has been more complicated than expected, “the idea of closing the clinic is something we aren’t even considering. There are very good options out there.”

Public Hospital District

Christa Campbell spoke about a Public Hospital District, stating that it became important to put it on the ballot to reassure potential partners that Lopez would supply some level of on-going funding to support the clinic. Whether we partner or go independent, public funding will be necessary. What is currently unclear is the amount of funds that will be needed.

The amount of the levy will not be on the ballot. “We understand that not specifying an amount on the measure is causing concern, but without more specifics about our final course, setting a levy amount now would have been guesswork. We knew that would not serve our community,” she said.

According to wording on the measure, the maximum amount that can be levied is .75 per thousand dollars of assessed property value. If the hospital district passes, the new commission will begin work immediately. One of their first tasks will be to present a budget to the county in October. That’s when the actual levy amount will be set.

“We plan to host a second community meeting as soon as more specifics are available,” said Christa. “Please stay tuned, we’re getting information out just as soon as we have it.”

Public Meeting this Sunday January 22 To Address Clinic Partnership and Hospital District

The Lopez community is invited to a public meeting this Sunday to learn more about on the Lopez Clinic partner search and the proposed public hospital taxing district. Meeting time is 1:30 – 4:30 at the LCCA community center.

The goal of the meeting is to release as much information as possible on both topics, to create an opportunity for open dialogue, then solicit community comments, concerns and questions. Dr. Bob Wilson, Christa Campbell and Charlie Janeway, all members of that Clinic/CWMA team working on these issues, will present background information and updates then open the meeting for questions.

“It’s going to be an important meeting and we’re hoping for a large turnout,” said Christa Campbell, CWMA board vice president.

For the partner search, the presenters will update everyone on the steps that have been taken since September, 2016 when Island Hospital notified the CWMA and Lopez Clinic that they would not renew their contract. The existing relationship with Island Hospital remains in place through June 2017. Challenges facing all rural clinics, information about the current healthcare climate, and specific opportunities and next steps for Lopez Clinic will be covered.

A public hospital district to help support Lopez Clinic with local tax dollars will be the second topic. The Board sponsored a petition in the last two weeks of December to gather signatures to put the measure on the April 2018 ballot.  Approximately 200 signatures were necessary; 550 signatures were gathered and of those, 505 were certified. The San Juan County Council meets this month to consider the measure. Public hearings will be held before the council decides if the public taxing district will be on the April ballot.

At this Sunday’s community meeting, the presenters will discuss the basics of a taxing district, the potential cost to tax payers, the rationale for putting a district on the ballot now rather than later and the how a tax district could benefit Lopez Clinic.

In addition to this public meeting, the Clinic/CWMA committee is asking local groups to consider inviting a representative to speak at one of their meetings between now and the April 24 voting date. Presentations will offer more specifics about the proposed hospital district and include an opportunity for questions. “We need to hear from the community as much as we want them to hear from us,” says Campbell. “If people are interested in helping us get the word out, or would like a presentation at their local meeting, please let Charlie or me know.” Regular updates and more information on both topics will be posted on Lopez Rocks and the Clinic/CWMA website and run in Islands Weekly as it becomes available.

Lopez Clinic Partnership and Petition Update

As a result of four months of work, three medical organizations have entered into discussions for a possible partnership with Lopez Island Medical Clinic. Dr. Wilson believes all three would be strong choices, allowing the clinic to continue the current level of patient care, services and insurance coverage. The CWMA/Clinic team working on the partnership is following up with each organization: site visits to clinics similar to ours are scheduled, on-going discussions with leadership of each group and further research is underway.

“We do ask for the community’s patience on this,” says CWMA President Marty Clark. “We wish we could announce the names of possible partners now, but due to confidentiality and contract issues with each of them, the names can’t be made public yet. We will host a public information meeting just as soon as we can. At that time, we’ll be asking for community questions and input.”

In the meanwhile, the CWMA/Clinic team handling the search is discovering that changes in national and state healthcare will necessitate other changes for us. Significant financial shifts and unknowns are creating challenges for healthcare providers around the country. For many, expenses are increasing while revenues (reimbursements) are decreasing. To prepare for that eventuality, the CWMA Board is proposing a hospital taxing district to Lopez voters.

“It has become clear to the board that the stability of our clinic will require a different kind of relationship with our future partner, no matter which one we chose. We feel that a taxing district is a pro-active step that would help provide crucial stability for Lopez Clinic in the long term,” says Christa Campbell, CWMA vice president and a member of the partnership search team.

To include the measure on the April 2017 ballot, 220+ registered Lopez voters must sign a petition that would then be submitted to the county on January 9.  Once the measure is on the ballot, a community team will work between January and April to answer questions and provide information about the proposed taxing district. Petitions are available at Lopez Island Pharmacy and Lopez Clinic. CWMA board members and others are also collecting signatures.

Passing the measure in the April election would allow taxes to be collected in 2018. Putting the measure on an August or November ballot would delay tax collections until 2019, which could make it necessary to secure funds needed before that time from another source.

Since 1972, the CWMA has built and maintained the clinic building with funds raised through membership fees and donations. If the proposed measure passes in April, there will be changes in the role of the CWMA. The taxing district would be run not by the CWMA but by an elected 5-person board of commissioners that would make decisions about how to use tax dollars to help support medical care on Lopez.

The amount of taxes levied will vary depending on who we select as our new partner, a decision that has yet to be decided.  A partner that continues the present Lopez Clinic model – as a rural healthcare clinic affiliated with a 50-bed hospital – could continue the current reimbursement rate. That could set the levy rate at $.35/$1,000 of assessed value.  For a San Juan County 2014 median house valued at $392,000 that would mean a tax of about $137/year.  A partnership that lowers the reimbursement could result in a tax rate of $.50/$1,000 assessed value or about $196/year for a home valued at $392,000.  The elected board of the taxing district will determine the actual rate, based on the budget they submit to the county. The maximum rate allowable is $.75/$1,000 assessed value, or $294/year for a home valued at $392,000.

CWMA Vice President Christa Campbell reminds people that they’re not being asked to vote for or against the taxing district at this time. “Signing the petition simply puts the measure on the ballot in April, 2017.”

Read Petition Info Sheet