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What’s next for our county’s hospitals?

MONTESANO — Voters in Grays Harbor County overwhelmingly turned out in support of a proposed hospital district to benefit Grays Harbor Community Hospital, but a drill down of precinct results show that those in East County actually rejected the measure on Election Day.

Combined, the eight precincts stretching from Montesano in the west to Melbourne in the north and Brady in the east, rejected the measure with 51.5 percent of those voting against the proposal as of the latest numbers. On Election Day, the tally had East County rejecting the measure with 52 percent. This is the same area that had been up for consideration of being annexed into the growth area of nearby Summit Pacific Medical Center.

However, because an overwhelming number of voters from the Aberdeen and Hoquiam area turned out in support of the measure, the East County area will still be part of the new hospital district. The measure received a 61.37 percent approval from the entire proposed hospital district boundaries, which stretched from the Satsop River out to Westport and Taholah.

For administrators at Summit Pacific Medical Center, the election was bittersweet. On one hand, Renee Jensen says she welcomes a brand new hospital district on the Harbor and pledged to do whatever she could to help the hospital succeed.

“We really are looking forward to collaborating with the new district,” Jensen said.

On the other hand, she’s disappointed that plans that have been in the works for at least five years to annex much of East County into the existing hospital district appear to be dead on arrival. The elected hospital commissioners at Summit Pacific had approved for an annexation measure to be on the November ballot.

East County hospital officials had waited to pursue the issue because they didn’t want to appear too eager, but their growth area was nabbed by Community Hospital’s own hospital district. They had asked the county commissioners to re-draw the boundaries, but lost on a 2-1 vote.

Jensen says the issue will come up when the hospital board meets during its next regular meeting on Aug. 28. The hospital has canceled community forums on the issue. The hospital commissioners could decide to keep it on the ballot, but that could create some interesting legal questions on what happens if the annexation measure is successful or if it would just be a waste of money.

Summit Pacific had recently commissioned a phone survey to determine the needs of the Montesano community. The hospital’s foundation also paid for a phone poll to see if residents would embrace the annexation idea.

“We don’t have the final results, but we’re told everything was rather favorable toward us,” Jensen said.

A data-driven needs assessment showed that Montesano needs four new medical providers, including a doctor. Jensen says that Summit Pacific would still like to set up a clinic in the city. To do so now, however, would take majority approval of the new hospital district, once the election is certified.

Jensen said it will make things more complicated, but she hopes a clinic would work out.

TURNOUT

In Aberdeen, 1,971 voters showed support for the Community Hospital’s measure compared to just 782 who voted against it. In Hoquiam, 1,086 voters supported the measure and 458 voted it down.

It was even a tight race in Central Park, which wasn’t part of Summit Pacific’s annexation area, where 244 voted for it and 204 voted against it.

Out in East County, the results weren’t as favorable with 882 residents in the combined area voting for it and 938 residents voting it down.

The city of Montesano was split with the precinct representing west and north Montesano voting for the measure with 297 residents in favor and 241 against; while those living in East Montesano voted against it with 221 in favor and 247 against.

The Brady area, in particular, voted it down with 63.6 percent. That area is closest to Summit Pacific Medical Center.

Jensen notes that residents in a precinct who feel particularly passionate could, on their own, facilitate a petition drive to de-annex their precinct from the new hospital district and ask to be merged into Summit Pacific’s existing district. That would require a validated petition and a successful election and the new hospital district commissioners would also get a say in the matter.

MONEY

Filings made with the state Public Disclosure Commission show that Grays Harbor Community Hospital, itself, spearheaded the Support Our Hospital political committee. Community Hospital donated $23,908 to the campaign, while UFCW LOCAL 21, which represents some of the union members of the hospital, donated $5,000. Individual donations just made up $501 and were mainly from hospital board members and individuals linked to the hospital.

Most of the campaign funds were spent on newspaper, radio and direct mail advertisements and $2,000 on a Tacoma consultant, as of the July 28 filings.

Money will also be an issue when the actual hospital district is formed and the seven hospital commissioners take office.

Auditor Vern Spatz confirmed that he plans to send a bill to the new hospital district to pay for the election costs. Typical bills range from $10,000 to $40,000.

But, even though the hospital will have new hospital commissioners and a district, it won’t have a dime to its name to actually pay for the costs, including the county’s election billings. Even if the hospital commissioners were to levy a property tax, they wouldn’t be able to collect it for some time.

“What the public has created is a shell with no money,” Spatz said. “It’s something that will have to be addressed.”

The hospital commissioners elected include Maryann Welch, Armando Juarez Jr., Miles Longenbaugh, Andrew Bickar, Pete Scroggs, Robert Torgerson and Ryan Farrer.

Longenbaugh, Farrer and Juarez will each serve until 2020. Welch, who represents the Montesano area, and Torgerson will serve until 2018. Scroggs and Bickar will serve until 2016.

Spatz has set a swearing-in ceremony for 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19 — which is when the election will be certified. The ceremony will take place at the County Administration Building in Montesano.

To view the precinct results, visit http://1.usa.gov/1uHPM5w