CHELAN - After months of going tit-for-tat, the ‘Citizens for a New Hospital’ and the ‘Vote No’ Committee met last Thursday, March 30 to present their side of the argument of the proposed $44.5 million hospital at Apple Blossom Center.
The forum came at an opportune time as the vote is set to take place on April 25. If approved, the public would facilitate $20 million of the total bill through an increase in property taxes of residents in the hospital district. The Lake Chelan Community Hospital and Clinic (LCCHC) is covering the remaining $24.5 million.
Representing the New Hospital group were Ty Witt, MD, Megan Guffey, MD, Keri Bergeson, MD and Guy Evans. Mike Sherer was the lone spokesman for the ‘vote no’ side.
The event was run as a traditional debate, with both sides beginning with an opening, then transitioning into rebuttals before finishing with a question and answer - where each side could respond to the question - from the attendees.
Evans and Bergeson set the stage by giving a brief summary of the intent and reason for voting in favor of a new hospital.
“All of the signs point for the need for a new hospital,” Evans began in his opening Thursday night. “To be clear, if you were to vote yes, you are voting to maintain current services. It is going to be about $10 per month of increased support for a $300,000 home and you would be adopting a vision that is pragmatically optimistic. This is the most wise option to take in light of the needs.”
“All of that is important, we genuinely want you to vote yes with confidence,” Bergeson said. “As a physician, I don’t want us to lose the real heart of this, and this is about healthcare for families, neighbors and loved ones. I’m tired of having to make excuses and apologize to patients why they didn’t have the experience they deserve, and it is always related to the limitation of the facility.”
Bergeson insisted that although the ‘vote no’ side would be preaching a remodel, that in actuality the cheaper option would be a new hospital. Referencing the Healthcare Collaborative analysis in November that stated a remodel project would be in the ballpark of $50+ million.
“A vote no means that we are going to make fixes to basic stuff, but not to patient care needs, and to me, this is about the patient,” Bergeson pleaded with the crowd.
Bergeson also mentioned that a residency program with the University of Washington - where medical students would come to LCCHC and shadow for two years for an apprenticeship - would only go forward with a new building.
Sherer articulated that his group had three arguments against the new facility: vision, ethics and revenues.
“The vision is wrong, we don’t want massive new debt, and we want to fix the hospital we have,” Sherer started with in his introduction. “We think we should stabilize and ship critical patients to a larger facility.”
“The current commissioners have failed the taxpayers for over 20 years,” Sherer continued. “They have failed to perform maintenance on the current hospital and have failed to listen to the will of the people. On the revenue end this is neither the time nor the project for this community.”
To back up his theory, Sherer presented a timeline following a 2005 seismic and facility inspection report where the highest rating was a marginal in all areas. Sherer said that since then there has been little renovation of the hospital, although the first levy in 2007 was to do just that. After the initial bond voted down, the Hospital purchased land at Apple Blossom Center and tried two more levy bonds, but both failed to receive the needed 60 percent supermajority.
“Since that time (2007) there has been little to nothing done to address those issues, and it has degraded further over the course of the past 12 years,” Sherer stated.
In a rebuttal, Guffed worked at decimating Sherer’s assertion.
“If you were a commissioner, if there were two things or maybe three or four, you would say, maybe we can fix it, but when the entire list needs to be fixed, I think you look at that and say we need a new hospital,” Guffey pointed out. “We went out to the community (after the first bond fail in 2007) and they told us there is no point to spend money on the current building. They (Sherer and ‘vote no committee’) neglect to tell you that when they talk about their timeline.”
Sherer insisted that a ‘can-do’ attitude would solve the issue and that it could be fixed for a lot less than estimated.
Both groups then answered questions chosen from the audience.
• Where would money come from for a remodel?
“They (the hospital) are happy to tell you they are flush, if that is true they can use revenues to help do that,” Sherer responded. “It all starts with a can-do attitude, perhaps even volunteers. I happen to have a 32,000 pound excavator and if they were moving dirt I would be happy to let them use it for free, I’m sure other contractors would be happy to contribute that as well, so there are a lot of ways the community can help.”
“Thank you for the offer, and if that stays open on the bond we can reduce our loan at the new site as well if you guys would offer to help,” Witt interjected, and was met with a resounding applause from the audience. “If there are any volunteers out there, we can reduce it.”
• If the hospital defaulted on their loan will that debt be passed on to taxpayers?
“It won’t,” Witt stated with confidence. “There would have to be a restructure or they would stretch it out further. The government would figure out a way to make the loan solvable and not back to the taxpayers.”
Sherer refuted that statement and asserted the community would be held ‘hostage’ if the hospital forecloses for any reason and would have to step up to the plate to provide the extra money to cover the loan.
• How do you respond to older, poorer residents who might not have the ability or means to make it down to Wenatchee versus a new facility in Chelan?
“We have to evaluate what services we will provide so we are viable for the future,” Sherer calmly suggested. “Some things we won’t be able to do, but think about the attitude people have that live in Stehekin, or Wintrow or Mansfield, you realize that it would be awhile before you could receive care. If you want a Harborview next door, then you better move to Seattle.”
“We are not trying to be Harborview,” Bergeson said in a response to Sherer. “We are on the ropes right now. Just to get up to code in order to practice modern medicine, we are talking $12 million. The CT-Scanner barely fits in the room it is in and we have a variance from the Department of Health (DOH) in order to have it. They aren’t getting smaller, so the next one we get is going to be bigger, we need more space. Medicine was not practiced the same when that building was built.”
• How do you respond to the folks that are on fixed incomes and any increase in taxes means a reduction in life, medication and necessities?
“We actually understand that and it is a touchy point,” Witt paused before continuing, “it was important to make it fair and for the hospital to carry as much as we can, and $22 million is what we were told is the safest number to pay back the debt. Unfortunately, the rest would be public, but when you use the hospital you can bring in your tax statement and our billing will credit you off the bill, so that money will come directly back to you.”
“If you are aging, $.38 is a good deal not to drive 45 minutes for a CT-Scan, or to take days off of work in order to visit loved ones,” Bergeson stated. “The money you save by keeping resources close to home is important.”
In the closing argument, Witt piggybacked off the theme of Sherer’s presentation, and thanked him for bringing it to his attention that the hospital already has a can-do attitude.
“I believe that our people and staff already have which is why we have been able to make things work and deliver great care for this long in the facility we have,” Witt said, causing the audience to applause. “Come out and vote.”
Sherer reiterated his message from the opening statement: maintain the old hospital, stabilize and ship critical cases, get new leadership that has a can-do attitude toward fixing the old facility.
The vote for a new hospital is on April 25 and ballots will be mailed this Friday, April 7.
Zach Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 682-2213
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