ORCHARD HARBOR — The first meeting of a new group of local elected officials, community representatives and health care officials was held Wednesday afternoon to discuss holes in the structure of the Kitsap health care system, creating a daunting set of needs, problems and challenges.
The large group, brought together by Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder, is now set to meet every few months, opening discussions on a variety of local and broader health care topics, such as the need for more staff and services.
Dr Gib Morrow, Health Officer for the Kitsap Public Health District, said: “It was clear to me that no single entity was responsible for ensuring a complete continuum of healthcare efforts in any given community and we were in a position where most other markets did not comply. In a market of whatever market rules are used, I really kind of hand it over to market forces.”
In December, the health district began a request for proposals with the goal of finding a consultant to study Kitsap’s healthcare environment, identify problems and propose solutions. Responses to the process are due Tuesday.
Mentioned Wednesday: Lack of maternity services, secular healthcare options, primary care, urgent care and emergency room options, and need for more nursing facilities, hospice and dialysis options. One topic that has generated some interest in the community is the formation of a public hospital district, a taxed district that can be used to subsidize or operate a range of health care services, an idea Gelder brought up as a topic.
We want to hear from you:What are the shortfalls in the healthcare system in Kitsap County?
Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson described the future of work as a decade-long process: “It looks to me almost like rebuilding an ecosystem,” she said. “Funding is always important, but it has many layers. We’re talking about labor shortages, we’re talking about reimbursement rates, we’re talking about regulatory hurdles. The list is really huge, and that’s one of the reasons the investigation is so important, it Provides us with a starting point.”
Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler noted that the Peninsula Community Health Center is being developed on Sixth Street in Bremerton: “I don’t know of a center like this that helps people who are homeless (discharged) ) was discharged from the hospital,” he said. “It’s a gap and a need.”
Randy Hartman, Kaiser Permanente’s director of regional operations for the Kitsap Peninsula, pointed to the challenges of hiring doctors, pointing to a national shortage.
“Some doctors have just finished their work and are tired,” he said. “It’s just the future to really work with advanced practice clinicians to find alternatives and other models of caring for patients and leverage teams and coordination. The cost is going up for physicians and they can choose where they want to go, so you have to try to be within the price range Competition, if you do that kind of thing, you price yourself out of the market.”
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Morrow pointed to the complexities of navigating the world of insurance reimbursement for independent health care providers, and “…private equity firms buy specialty practices and then try to put the productivity screws on doctors, who then realize all The money is being sucked out of them and they’re overworked, burnt out, dropping out of school, retiring prematurely.”
Erickson said: “I’m really grateful (St. Michael’s Medical Center), we have a state-of-the-art hospital on our doorstep, which is a step in the right direction. But it still doesn’t solve our problems. The labor shortage problem. We have a huge problem right now with the workforce, and part of the labor shortage is because they don’t have a place to live. We have a housing shortage.”
Chad Melton, president of St. Michael’s Medical Center, pointed to the community’s high cost of living as a barrier to hiring from other parts of the country.
He also pointed to the need for more positions to be created in education health care programs: “There are some students out there who want to go into the profession, but we don’t have enough places at our school, and we don’t have enough classes,” pointing to what he said the facility reportedly has for surgical technologists. The vacancy rate is about 100%. “There’s only one school in the district, and that’s in Tacoma, and they only produce 6-10 candidates a year. Today’s process doesn’t go far enough.”
Some participants noted that local healthcare services provided by the Navy are being curtailed.
“It puts a huge strain on the system, not to mention that Tricare (the Department of Defense’s health insurance program) is one of the worst payers out there, so a lot of people don’t want to take . And that’s a real problem too.”
Morrow notes that Kitsap finds itself in a unique situation while it’s dealing with the same issues that the rest of the country is dealing with: “I think there’s a labor shortage, Kitsap has unique issues like the presence of the navy, it’s already been a challenge for Kitsap. Said historic and is a very important thing but as health care is more and more consolidated some things play a role locally and as the population grows the naval medical presence retreats to some extent, And throw a pandemic into the mix, and everything is a quagmire at this point.”