Monte requests to be removed from Hospital District 2

The Montesano City Council unanimously passed a resolution requesting withdrawal from the Grays Harbor Public Hospital District No. 2.

The Montesano City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to request withdrawal from Grays Harbor Public Hospital District No. 2.

In taxing terms, the city would cut ties with Grays Harbor Community Hospital and its clinics. At the same time, it would open opportunities for a partnership with another provider, such as Summit Pacific Medical Center, part of Hospital District 1 in the eastern part of the county.

The Community Hospital board learned of Montesano’s intention through an email from Montesano Mayor Vini Samuel sent Friday. Samuel asked for a resolution to let the city leave the district. Failing a resolution, the city could bring a ballot measure to district voters. She asked for a decision from the board by the end of September.

Several people at the council meeting spoke out against the change. One Hospital District 2 commissioner said the weekend email was the first they had been made aware of the city’s intention.

Samuel says changes have been in the works for more than a year.

“The primary focus of the past 18 months of exploration is to address the lack of primary care providers in the Harbor and to create a viable economic diversification for Montesano,” Samuel said during the City Council meeting.

Samuel said she would like to have discussions with Hospital District 1, which runs Summit Pacific Medical Center in Elma and the McCleary clinic. The district serves the easternmost part of the county. It’s western border is near Satsop.

District 2 encompasses most of the rest of the county and runs Grays Harbor Community Hospital and several clinics, including in Montesano and Hoquiam, as well as specialty clinics.

During the council meeting, District 2 Commissioner Miles Longenbaugh said Montesano represents 15 percent of the property tax collections for the district.

“The financial stability (of Community Hospital) is increasing,” Longenbaugh said. “We had a positive net income for the first time in months. The culture is changing and things definitely are improving. A vote for de-annexation (of Montesano from the district) would further hinder our efforts toward financial stability.” He also warned of a migration of people seeking service away from District 2.

Samuel said the city’s tax money equates to about $150,000 for District 2, and as for a migration of customers, it’s already happened.

“Over 50 percent of our population already go to Summit,” she said. “So the migration of services has already occurred. I don’t know what the loss is, but there will be a gain for the county and the citizens.”

She mentioned a potential residency program, which District 1 is beginning to explore. A residency clinic in Montesano could increase the number of providers in East County long term, because doctors tend to stay in the area of their residency.

“I believe that we need more primary care providers that stay in the Harbor and that has been a large problem,” Samuel said.

Longenbaugh and District 2 Board President Maryann Welch cited their most recent community needs survey that shows five providers are recommended for Montesano. They say Montesano already has that number with another doctor coming to the District 2 Montesano clinic in October.

“(Montesano has) three physicians in this community and two nurse practitioners,” Welch said. “And that goes a long way to meeting the needs and certainly it’s meeting the needs more there than if you look at places like Westport, Lake Quinault … places that have nothing. As a board, we need to look at our whole district and what the needs are like.”

Welch and Samuel were scheduled to meet Wednesday, Sept. 5, to discuss the request.