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Three vie for position on hospital district board

Ballots should be in your mailbox this week for the Aug. 6 primary election in Grays Harbor County. All ballots must be turned in to the county Auditor’s Office or postmarked by Election Day.

Of most interest to East County residents is a three-way race for Position 3 on the Hospital District Board of Commissioners.

Incumbent Drew Hooper, who lives in Elma, has drawn two opponents, Karrie Fruen of Elma and Otis Leathers of McCleary.

However, every registered voter in the county will receive a ballot specifically because of the election for county sheriff. Even though Sheriff Rick Scott is running unopposed for the remainder of the one-year unexpired term of his retired predecessor Mike Whelan, Elections Administrator Katy Moore says that state law requires all partisan races to appear on the primary ballot. That means some of the 38,502 ballots being sent out will only have that one item on their ballot and no others.

“It may confuse some people,” Moore said, adding that if a write-in candidate emerges in the Sheriff’s Office that reaches a certain percentage, he or she automatically ends up on the General Election ballot in November. That happened in the 24th Legislative District when both state Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege both ran for re-election last year.

Moore expected to send ballots out on Wednesday, July 17.

The Hospital District is in charge of the health care and budgeting practices for Summit Pacific Medical Center in Elma. The hospital board is also in charge of setting salaries of its administrative staff and determining the future uses of the former Mark Reed Hospital campus, which currently has only a small clinic operating on the campus.

Hooper, 32, the incumbent, has served about five years on the board, having been appointed to the board and then winning an unopposed election for the partial term that ends this year.

An agent for New York Life, Hooper welcomes some competition for his seat.

“I would like to win, but I was extremely excited to see people running against us,” Hooper said of the upcoming election. “I’m just excited that people are interested in being in health care — to put themselves out there.”

Hooper said there are numerous challenges facing the hospital and the district, including the looming Affordable Heath Care Act.

“Health care reform is going to be challenging, but in the end I think it will be a positive thing because as a district — and a nation — it’s making us think about health care differently. It’s hopefully going to reign in the costs and make health care more affordable, but there are difficult challenges ahead, especially for a (smaller) facility like ours.”

Hooper believes many health-care providers will be looking to team up with other regional resources in the future.

“There could be a lot of affiliations, partnerships and mergers,” he said. “I think in time, we’ll probably be looking in that direction.”

Hooper said the district is already holding Affordable Health Care Act forums to try to educate the public on changes coming to the regional and national health-care systems.

Hooper said the toughest thing about serving on the hospital board has been the “learning curve.”

“I would say there’s a lot more of a time commitment to this that a lot of other elected positions because the learning curve is extremely steep,” he said. I think it’s a little bit different than a school board or city council, because you’re dealing with health-care issues … and because of the unique circumstances with state and federal funding. It’s a very complex system.

Fruen, 41, manages the Woods Villa apartments in Elma and is a mother of two with one grandchild.

She has never run for an elected office before and, after attending an orientation for candidates, understands the post will be quite challenging.

“There’s a lot to learn,” she said of the district board. “I’m very interested in the health-care system. “I’ve always wanted to do something in the community and I think this would be a good place to start. I’ve heard a lot of good things and bad things about the hospital … but I would just really like to do what I can, learn what I can and then see what I can do to help out.”

She didn’t cite any specific issues facing the district that motivated her to run.

“I would really need to get in there and roll up my sleeves before I can pinpoint specifics,” she said. “I just think I would be a great fit.”

Leathers, 69, is retired but works with various volunteer organizations, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Leathers currently sits on the hospital’s Foundation Board and the hospital’s quality committee, where he helps go over quality markers for the hospital.

“I’m the most qualified candidate other than the incumbent I’m running against. I think the board needs at least one new member and I represent retired people and rural citizens,” said Leathers, who worked 24 years for the state Department of Social and Health Services. “I feel that I’m an advocate for not just business people, but consumers of the hospital’s services.”

Leathers says the Affordable Health Care Act is a looming issue.

“It is going to create numerous challenges that are going to have to be dealt with,” he said. “Number two, we must be really careful to monitor the quality of services we provide so that we can retain the clients that use our facilities.”

Finally, Leathers noted, “the hospital needs to look into new areas that are critical to the community that are not being handled well now — such as mental illness for both adults and youths. There are too few programs and the services are fragmented and scattered. There needs to be coordination of those sorts of efforts.”

The only other candidates and issues on the county ballot are:

• In Aberdeen, incumbent City Councilman Denny Lawrence faces two challengers — Bruce Daniels and Michelle Barclay — for Lawrence’s council seat.

• In Westport, there are two separate levy measures that would help fund emergency medical care and ambulance service for the community.

• In Grayland, there is a levy proposition on the ballot to provide emergency and ambulance funding for Fire Protection District No. 3.

• In Ocosta, there is a levy proposition on the ballot to provide emergency and ambulance funding for Fire Protection District No. 14.

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