The Weekly’s 2017 year in review | Part 1

  • Wed Jan 10th, 2018 4:49pm
  • News

#1 UW Medicine takes over Lopez Medical Center

It all began in September 2016, when Island Hospital announced it would be ending its contract with Lopez Island Medical Clinic at the end of June 2017. Then the Catherine Washburn Medical Association board began to search for alternatives.

Christa Campbell was serving as vice president on the CWMA board when Island Hospital notified the Lopez clinic it was terminating its contract. She was part of the five-member search committee that sought a new provider for the Lopez Medical Center. CWMA approached nine medical institutions in Western Washington, including returning to Island Hospital if a public hospital district was created. It declined to negotiate a new contract.

Lopez was a break-even hospital, Campbell said. Without associating with a medical institution with a manageable Medicare reimbursement rate, Lopez Islands Medical Center was automatically in a deficit of more $300,000. The board chose to actively pursue a public hospital district to make up for the deficit.

“So the message to us was pretty clear that even if we went independent (we) still weren’t getting that reimbursement rate. So (we) had to be making up the money somewhere,” Campbell said. Lopez voted on its public hospital district, with more than 84 percent of voters approving it.

In August, UW Medicine announced that Dr. Michael D. Alperin accepted the position of chief of the UW Medicine Orcas Island and Lopez Island Clinics effective Nov. 1. Meanwhile, long-time island doctor Robert Wilson.

In December, it was announced that Wen Murphy, ARNP, FNP-BC, joined the UW Medicine Lopez Island Clinic as a family nurse practitioner and will begin working in February 2018.

The clinic came under some scrutiny early on. Every patient was scheduled for a 45-minute new patient appointment, though many had seen Dr. Wilson for years prior. Additionally, those appointments were sometimes not being covered by the patient’s insurance causing a sometimes large bill to come to the patient. Additionally, there is very little availability for urgent care visits unless the patient is in dire need of assistance. Patients also said that they were having to wait weeks to be scheduled for an appointment, which caused some of them to have prescription refill problems.

UW Medicine acknowledged all of these incidents, asking community members to contact the clinic if they have any problems.

#2 Lopez Island forms Public Health District

After Island Hospital terminated its contract with the Catherine Washburn Medical Association, the board began seeking an alternative. Knowing that the clinic would couldn’t operate without an associated clinic, nor would one collaborate with a rural clinic that runs a deficit annually.

The CWMA board then decided that the only way for medical care to survive on Lopez was to create a public hospital district.

On Jan. 10, 2017, the association presented to the County Council a petition with 505 out of the required 187 valid signatures needed for the measure to be placed on the ballot. Those more than 500 signatures were gathered in just 12 days.

The measure went to vote during the April 25 special election and passed with 84.77 of the votes being for the creation of the public hospital district. Also selected at the time were the five commissioners that would serve on the board. Commissioners include Christa Chapman, former vice president of the CWMA board; Rebecca Presley; Iris Gravill; James Orcutt; and Albert Berger.

Once the public hospital district was approved, CWMA moved forward, signing a contract with UW Medicine to take over control of clinic operations. This partnership was announced in May and UW began running the clinic in late September.

Transitioning from Island Hospital to UW Medicine came with an estimated cost of up to $600,000, said Campbell in April. The annual anticipated shortfall of the clinic is $450,000 to $600,000, she added. The newly created public hospital district board chose to tax the community at the highest rate available, 75 cents per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value, at least for the first few years, to pay back loans it procured trying to keep the clinic operating and to secure a partnership with UW Medicine.

At its regular board meeting on Dec. 14, the board of commissioners introduced a resolution to announce Anne Presson as their selection for superintendent.

The public hospital district will start gathering taxes from the community in April. An estimated total of $760,000 will be accumulated at that time.

#3 Washington State Ferries outages cause rough summer

It was the summer of ferry service shortages. In mid-July, two broken ferries prompted an alternate schedule for 13 days. Then in early August, the San Juans’ newest boat, the Samish, had mechanical issues, plunging the routes right back to limited sailings for three days.

The Yakima went out of service on Sunday, July 16. The Kitsap, the only backup vessel for Washington State Ferries’ 22 boats, was also out. As a result, the Anacortes/San Juans route operated on a four-boat “emergency” schedule that lasted until July 29, when the Chelan was brought in from the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route.

On Aug. 6, the Samish, which was built in 2015, had a propeller shaft coupling failure, returning the route to just four vessels. On Aug. 9, a repaired Yakima returned and regular sailings resumed.

By the end of the summer, the Yakima was out of service from July 16-29; the Samish was out Aug. 6-9; the Elwha was out part of the day on Aug. 16; the Hyak was for scheduled maintenance on Aug. 30; and the Elwha went out again from Sept. 2–3.

Aug. 6-9: Samish is out of service. A four-boat schedule is used.

Aug. 16: Elwha is out of service for part of the day.

Aug. 30: The Hyak is out of service.

Sept. 2-3: The Elwha is out of service. A four-boat schedule is used.

When the Samish was pulled, the sheriff’s office and Orcas Island Fire and Rescue helped with crowd control and congestion at the Orcas terminal. According to OIFR, the hundreds of cars waiting all day created a “road and pedestrian hazard.” On Lopez, the ferry line was backed up almost to Odlin County Park and travelers were delayed more than 10 hours without easily accessible bathrooms or food service.

#4 Phone problems plague Lopez Village

For more than three months, businesses and residences in the Lopez Village had to deal with intermittent phone outages. CenturyLink told the Weekly the problem was resolved mid-September.

“Around May 19 some of the retail establishments … would see intermittent interruptions with just their phone service,” said Kerry Zimmer, a media representative for CenturyLink. “We were not receiving any alarm on the system whatsoever. If the phone system usually goes out, we get an alarm immediately and, we know, and we send techs to repair. … In this instance, we were not seeing any alarms.”

Zimmer said she was unaware of any outages prior to being interviewed by The Weekly. She looked into the situation and found that there has been an ongoing outage in Lopez Village and it is being corrected.

Several businesses in the village have reported outages, including Lopez Village Market, Lopez Center, Lopez Fit, the fire department and Lopez Island Pharmacy. From not receiving calls to being unable to run credit cards, the impact has been felt throughout the village.

Rick McCoy, the owner of Lopez Pharmacy, first called CenturyLink when the phones began acting up in May. Since then, he has called CenturyLink several times, keeping detailed records of each contact.

“I made at least two documented trouble tickets when the problem became widespread. Finally, after CenturyLink was unable to give us any idea when the problem would be resolved, we filed a formal complaint with the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission,” wrote McCoy on the pharmacy’s Facebook page.

Zimmer said the company replaced all of the hardware on Lopez in mid-September. However, the cause of the outages was still unknown.

“There was absolutely no rhyme or reason why this was happening,” said Zimmer. “We have invested in all brand-new equipment. Everything is there on site, and our engineers are now working. All of these services will be on brand-new equipment.”

#5 County procures controversial Clure property

In January, San Juan County Land Bank proposed to purchase the Clure property on Lopez Island. The acquisition would allow entrance to a beach which currently has no public land access because it’s surrounded by private property.

Some nearby homeowners feared they would lose their private beach access and face possible lower property values and increased beach traffic.

“We didn’t buy waterfront properties and pay waterfront taxes to have our land be turned into public property,” neighbor Larry Bailey told The Journal in January. Bailey and his neighbors own the beaches, above the high-tide mark, in front of their properties, south of the Clure’s.

Property below the state beach’s high-tide mark of 7.1 feet is public, and property above it is private and belongs to the landowner, according to Land Bank Director Lincoln Bormann.

Bormann said purchasing the Clure property will allow the public to park on the land and walk a trail through the woods to the property’s 450-foot-long beach, which would be entirely public thanks to the land bank ownership.

Beachcombers can also walk on the public section of the lower part of the private northern properties next to it, until the completely private section at the Sunset Acres development. No signs advertise the preserve from the road.

Land bank officials would also like to create a public walking path on the private sections of northern property owner’s beaches, from the Clure property to Sunset Acres. Landowners, who agree to the public trail easement, would be protected in case of visitors’ injuries, said Bormann.

Bailey claimed the use will disturb wildlife, like bald eagles, seals and mussels, despite the Land bank’s mandate to preserve environmental areas. Bailey also said they can’t view the beach from the south and can’t monitor possible driftwood fires made by visitors.

Bailey told The Journal that he and his neighbors hadn’t heard about the purchase until November 2016.

Bormann told The Journal, the purchase was publicly discussed 15 times, between the county council and land bank meetings since the project was proposed last April 2016 by the Lopez Community Trails Network.

In April 2017, the land bank voted to purchase two parcels on the 10-acre Clure property.

Land Bank Director Lincoln Bormann said in April that for the first year the staff would monitor and assess the property. The second year will include public involvement and input with an interim management plan in place. The third year a final management plan would be implemented and possibly then open to the public.

The Land Bank secured the northern parcel’s down payment but asked Lopezians to fund the $50,000 needed for the southern parcel. the $50,000 will be given to the seller of the property, said Bormann. The funds were raised in three weeks.

Land bank representatives negotiated the northern parcel to cost $410,000, and the southern parcel, $360,000. Bormann told The Journal both properties were appraised and are at market value.

Land bank officials used the organization’s 1 percent tax on purchased property in the county, as well as state grants for which they will apply in 2018. If the grants are not secured, the land bank will only purchase the northern parcel and return the $50,000 to donors, said Bormann.