By Evan Perrollaz, Inter Island Healthcare Foundation member, administrator of the Village at Friday Harbor
It’s easy to forget how fragile life is. About a year ago, I got a call from a gentleman who was in a nursing home up in Bellingham recovering from a stroke. He was an incredibly well-traveled man who spent time between Orcas and Alaska, enjoying time on his boat exploring nature and serenity. That changed the day he had his stroke and his world changed forever. He had a connection with Orcas so the islands felt like home. He is an ongoing reminder that life can change in an instant and the freedoms and luxuries that we are accustomed to can disappear overnight.
This man needed the right environment to recover. He needed to be surrounded by the right people to heal. This island does have a spirit to it, and without that connection, he would have wasted away and deteriorated. I really believe that. I want to give people the opportunity to age here, to heal here, to not have to do it in Bellingham or Mount Vernon.
When the nursing home closed it left a huge void in our county with over 90 percent of their population having to leave the island to find appropriate housing and care.
Health care is changing; the number of nursing homes closing across the country is alarming as they face pressures across the board related to staffing, reimbursement rates, census and the economy. We need something that is nimble, that is proactive and that works. We need a new model.
The Inter-Island Healthcare Foundation, of which I am a member, is investing in a feasibility study to work on these issues. Since we began taking donations in December 2018, about half of the necessary $50,000 has been raised. This is a crucial next step in the process, one that will allow us to gather and collect the vital information needed to allow us as a county to develop and create new programs for the vulnerable population. We have an opportunity to establish something spectacular, and the time is now. Simply keeping with the status quo is not an option; it isn’t working now and left unchanged will continue to worsen and limit the quality of life for many on the islands.
This is a countywide issue. Efforts on Orcas and Lopez will be a necessary part of a meaningful fix to the problem. We invite all county residents to contribute to help make this a reality: www.interislandhealthcare.org/donate/.
I have been working hard on this problem since Life Care closed. It’s a chance for us to marshal our resources, to go out there and build something that is innovative, something that is well-suited to our county, and that will provide a quality of care better than you can find anywhere in the country. I hope you join us!