If Grays Harbor Community Hospital does not become a public hospital, our economic health will be in jeopardy. That is why the board of Greater Grays Harbor, Inc. has voted to support the formation of Grays Harbor Public Hospital District #2.
Community Hospital has struggled the past few years to balance its budget, and the primary reason it has been unable to do so is because of its “payer mix.” Today, about 80 percent of its patients rely on Medicaid or Medicare to pay for their healthcare. Unfortunately the government does not pay enough to cover the costs the hospital incurs just caring for those patients. Eight out of ten times when a patient walks in the door, the hospital is losing money just by doing what they are mandated by law to do.
In the times of economic prosperity, most of the hospital’s patients are employed and have health insurance, and they subsidized everybody else – a fact of life still at most hospitals in the U.S. And the hospital has been cutting costs. But there is no fat left to trim. And the hospital cannot expect two patients to carry their own costs and a portion of those of eight others – it is deeply unfair and fundamentally unsustainable. The hospital needs to be paid a fairer price for what it provides to all of its patients.
GHCH, along with three other rural community hospitals in much the same position, asked this fiscal fairness of the state legislature this past session, and the legislature agreed to increase the reimbursements for Medicaid patients to match the higher reimbursement rates of Medicare patients. However, the law mandates that the hospital must be owned and operated by a public entity – a hospital district.
There are benefits to being public besides recouping a greater portion of Medicaid costs. The hospital will be able to run levies to support its operations. Elected hospital commissioners will set the rate, and county commissioners are in charge of approving anything up to $0.50; anything above that to a maximum of $0.75 goes to a public vote. The average public hospital levy is $0.50, which means $4.17 for someone who owns a $100,000 home, a very small price to pay for the service (Aberdeen residents pay $6.69 per month for storm drain maintenance, for example.) Elected officials and levy votes will make GHCH accountable to the people.
Another effect of the levy process is that those patients who are costing the hospital are chipping in to pay for the cost of the services through rent and property taxes, which makes it more equitable. And no one in Grays Harbor can say they don’t use the hospital – you never know when you, or someone you care about, will need their services. It’s not like a store or a bank.
It is also worth dwelling on what will happen if the public district does not come to pass. Unfortunately, that is a murkier view. It is very likely that many of the hospital’s more than 650, mainly family-wage jobs will be lost and services cut. This alone would be devastating to local businesses, and property values would surely plunge as former medical staff move to jobs elsewhere while others are dissuaded from living in an area which does not have a full suite of medical services.
And forget persuading new industry to set up shop here. Few industrial businesses, and no large scale operations, want to open in an area where the only hospital is a critical access facility that stabilizes and ships emergencies to Olympia. Our area’s dependence on Medicaid would continue and possibly grow, further limiting the hospital.
And think about the medical transport by ambulances – it will tie up our cities’ emergency services. They will be responsible for taking emergency cases from here to Olympia – valuable time where they may be needed for emergency calls here, and a valuable chunk of our communities’ budgets.
None of this addresses what it means if, say, the Family Birthing Center closes up shop – a definite possibility. Will you or your family member need to go all the way in Olympia for routine OB care, never mind the birth? The hospital will certainly provide a lot less primary care to patients, and possibly a great deal less surgery. We have doctors who can do all manner of surgeries, from replacing knees and hips to reconstructive surgery, to cancer surgery. The Harbor stands to lose those services if the hospital district isn’t formed.
A levy is truly a small price to pay for stability, economic development, public safety and accountability. And it’s cheaper than the cost of appointments in Olympia, on the cost to the cities of transporting emergency cases to Olympia.
That is why we support the formation of the Gray Harbor Public Hospital District No. 2, and we urge you to vote Yes.
The Board of Greater Grays Harbor, Inc.