ELMA — Hospital District commissioners Brent Meldrum and Drew Hooper asked voters to return them to office last week during a recent election forum hosted by the Elma Chamber of Commerce.
The hospital district, with borders in the Elma and McCleary area, is in charge of the new Summit Pacific Medical Center, as well as its clinics in Elma and McCleary at the old hospital.
Hooper recently survived a three-way primary election as the top choice. He faces apartment manager Karrie Fruen of Elma. The third challenger that lost in the primary, Otis Leathers, recently endorsed Hooper for the position.
Meldrum wasn’t on the primary ballot. He faces Gary Thumser of McCleary.
Neither Thumser nor Fruen were at the Chamber event on Tuesday. Hooper noted that neither candidate had been attending election forums or had attended hospital board sessions.
“I want to win, but think it’s great that other people care enough to want to run,” Hooper said, noting he’s run unopposed in the past. “But it’s our community we’re talking about. This is important stuff. The learning curve is steep and I have yet to see one of those individuals attend a board meeting, even though there have been invitations multiple times and that’s frustrating to me. … The learning curve with this role was extremely steep. Healthcare is a very complex business. I live in Elma. I grew up in Grays Harbor … and I run my own business and am very familiar with a lot of different types of business.”
Hooper said he’s proud the new hospital has driven more providers to the area and increased service.
“We’ve done amazing things to increase access to care for individuals and quality of care and the type of care and type of services,” Hooper said, adding that he’s excited with the potential of the new hospital and “wants to see that through.”
“We have more people coming to our hospital and clinics today and our volumes far exceed the projections we had planned,” Hooper said.
Meldrum, who is chairman of the hospital district board, said that the board has worked “really hard to gain your confidence to make it the place to be and we do appreciate it and your support.”
Hinting at the controversy of the name change from Mark Reed to Summit Pacific, Meldrum noted, “We may have stepped on a toe or two, but we really have tried hard to improve the healthcare of this community.”
Meldrum said that two commissioners sit on quality care meetings and help oversee patient complaints “to make sure that everything is being covered.”
“From the time you enter the hospital, we have one of the best turn around times in this area and because of what we’re able to do, we are saving lives,” Meldrum said.
One issue facing the board is what to do with the old McCleary Hospital, which sits empty except for the adjoining clinic. “One avenue we look at is the opportunity to partner with someone to be able to provide mental health care to those individuals and we’ve definitely had those conversations,” Hooper said.
If not for mental health, Hooper said that the old Mark Reed facility might be able to be used for specialists or some other kind of partners.
“We’ve been so focused on the new facility, making sure it’s operating efficiently and the way it needs to be as well as health care reform and what that means to the hospital, but the reality is it’s important to us and we have some square footage that should be used,” Hooper said.
Hooper is an agent for New York Life and lives in Elma. Meldrum owns a medical transport company and also lives in Elma.
The Vidette reached out to Fruen and Thumser after the election forum.
Fruen said she missed the most recent forum because it was scheduled when she had to work.
“Well, it was during the middle of the day and I had to work so I was unable to attend, said Fruen, who manages an apartment complex in Elma.
Fruen doesn’t believe her job will interfere with serving on the board, though.
“I assume that everybody on the board has a job,” she said. “The meetings are during the evening and I work during the day, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
As for not attending any board meetings, she said, “I haven’t yet, but I plan on going to the next one and I’m pretty excited about that.”
Fruen says taking a stand on particular issues such as what should be done with the former Mark Reed campus would have to wait until she was actually elected, should that happen.
“Until you get in there and see budgets and things like that, you don’t really know enough to have a plan,” she said.
Fruen’s brother, Chad Searls, already serves on the board, and Fruen says she’s gotten “a little bit of advice from him, “but not a lot.”
As for her campaign, Fruen says, “It’s going good, hopefully. We’ll see how it turns out.”
Thumser, of McCleary, is a former vice president of Simpson Credit Union. He says he also was part of Simpson Timber Company’s management team for 31 years. Thumser said that he also served as CEO of a credit union in Alaska.
He says he served a term on the McCleary School Board in the 1980s.
Editor’s Note: Thumser did not provide a photo and couldn’t be reached for comment. Information from Thumser was provided by the candidate in May.