TONASKET – Emotions ran high at the North Valley Hospital’s Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Jan. 31, as more than 75 people packed the board room and adjoining offices to express their opinions about the impending closing of the Assisted Living facility.
Since the board approved a recommendation to close the facility, effective March 31, protesters have frequently picketed in front of the Assisted Living facility, while families and staff have sought to arrange new living accommodations for its nearly 30 residents.
Thursday was the first opportunity most had to to publicly express their thoughts to the board and administrative staff, and seventeen had their say, mostly questioning the board’s decision and what led up to it.
Many opinions covered common ground.
Cathy Anderson works regularly with local seniors.
” It’s been my honor to know them,” she said. “I think it’s a shame that this board over years, supposedly, has let them get in this position… How long did we know it was failing, and how long did they know?”
Willa Bedient said she felt the process involving the outreach to the community should have been allowed to proceed further.
“That process, though you did reach out, was cut short,” she said. “I also feel that the board has not been that transparent. As a public hospital district I think information should be more readily available to the taxpayers to consider.”
Krista Harden acknowledged that the board had a tough choice.
“I think it was a very tough decision to have to make,” she said. “But the chances of it possibly closing down the nursing home, the ER, acute care. If it could happen that way, with the continued loss, we might have to close the entire facility or close at a later date. I think it’s unfortunate.”
Lisa Andrews said she didn’t think the choice should be between the hospital or the Assisted Living.
“I think it is a false statement…,” she said. “… I was part of that (Assisted Living) committee meeting. I was asked if there was a timeline. Your senior management team did not divulge that there was a deadline. We wanted to go for a special levy. We needed time to figure it out … but we had four or five days. But then you met, made a decision and it was done. There was no transparency; it was lip service.
“I’m just really ashamed that it came down to this.”
“These are our family, our friends, our elders…,” said Pat Atchison. “You’d better look at the road we’re going down. Are you going to sit us out in the street, the younger ones, like we are doing to our elders here? If this is the respect that we pay – ‘Let’s put ‘em all on a bus and put them on an ice floe and send them out to God knows where?’ Because that’s what we’re doing here. We’re sending them to Wenatchee, Spokane, Seattle, because there is no room at the inn anywhere.”
Loren Wahl said he felt that the Assisted Living was given up on too easily.
“At what point do you quit trying?” he asked. “I don’t understand that. I wasn’t wired that way. I don’t know how you can just give up and put my grandmother on the street.”
He added that losing the Assisted Living residents could cost the hospital as well.
“If you take them out of here,” he said, “then all those people don’t spend money at the hospital. They’re down at Omak spending money down there.”
Board chair Helen Casey defended the board’s integrity and said that the decision was not an easy one to make.
“This is very heartfelt very emotional time, not only for each one of you in this room, but for each one of the board members,” Casey said. “Linda, the CEO, and the rest of the senior leaders.
“In 1994 (when the decision was made to build the Assisted Living) we had the right idea and the right thing to do … (but) things have changed.
She said that citizens contacting their legislators could have some effect on some of the funding cuts that have hurt the district’s financial standing.
“They’re going to cut… bad debt and charity care … That is something we should have control over, but we don’t. Because we are a community that needs that extra piece.”
Casey said that hospital district still owes Okanogan County more than $2 million in warrants makes it that much more difficult to borrow additional money and puts the hospital at risk if not dealt with soon.
“We will consider and talk about this, but we have some major obligations,” she said. “We have the county to deal with. We’ll be meeting with them next week. I wasn’t here in 1984 … that was then Seattle First came into the board meeting and said ‘This is it. You are no longer in operation.’ …It was a difficult time with that board to go forward and provide the quality of health care we needed in the community. That’s where we are today…
“I just feel that we have a fiduciary responsibility of the board — this is not a threat — we could be shut down. Asked to close. And that would be a horrible thing to happen to our community. Because we can’t meet our financial obligations. It’s not because we don’t care. Because we do.”
Regarding the Okanogan County Board of Commissioners, they called the hospital commissioners to a board meeting on Monday, Feb. 4 for a discussion with county treasurer Leah McCormack. McCormack directed the hospital district in December to step up its efforts to get it its warrants paid down.
Don Atchison, speaking separately as he was put on the Long Term Care division’s agenda, issued the following statement:
“We want to clarify our goal. It’s to maintain Assisted Living service for our elder community. Firstly, we, the Concerned Citizens for Tonasket Assisted Living, request that the North Valley Hospital Board of Commissioners rescind your decision to close the Assisted Living facility.
“Secondly, we request the Board of Commissioners return to your original outcry for community involvement to help improve operations by working together through joint committees as previously established. We believe that the decision to close the Assisted Living was made using misrepresented, inaccurate and incomplete figures. We remind you that you have a moral responsibility to these 28 elderly and disabled members of the community that you are displacing.
“These people face severe financial hardship, separation from loved ones and friends, due to relocation outside our area. And because of the stress and uncertain futures they face a greater increase in mortality rate. That’s a very important point. You as board members of this hospital district have not only moral responsibility but possible financial implications as well. We implore you to consider this request as it is intended, to put the needs of our citizens first.”
The board adjourned into an executive session per RCW 42.30.110.(1)(c), with no decisions or actions to be made that evening.
The Board of Commissioners issued the linked response to Don Atchison’s statement on behalf of the Concerned Citizens for the Tonasket Assisted Living on Tuesday, Feb. 5, after the Gazette-Tribune’s print deadline.
The next regular meeting of the NVH Board of Commissioners is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 14.