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Q&A: Samaritan Healthcare candidates

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | September 28, 2023 4:13 PM

MOSES LAKE — Incumbent Katherine Christian and challenger Elliot DeLong are running for one of two open positions on the Samaritan Healthcare commission.

The Columbia Basin Herald submitted three questions to each candidate simultaneously, with set word count limits and an identical deadline to return their responses. Where needed the answers have been trimmed to fit within the word limits set by the Columbia Basin Herald in order to ensure fairness to both candidates. The paper encourages voters to reach out to the candidates if they want to discuss the issues below in more detail.

Responses are in alphabetical order according to candidate last names

November 7 is Election Day. Ballots will be mailed to voters Oct. 18 and early voting begins Oct. 20.

What prompted you to run for the hospital board?

Christian: I have been honored to serve the Hospital District — as a commissioner or committee member – for 20 years. Some of that time, the District struggled to make progress on the overall strategic plan. Since 2016 however, the District leadership has gained traction and momentum on the key components of that strategic plan, addressing short-term/immediate needs as well as planning for the decades ahead. The efforts of the District nearly doubled the number of physicians over that time, bringing more primary care and specialty services to our population.

In addition, plans for improved outpatient and hospital facilities are in progress to support that increase in physicians. They have consistently maintained accreditation standards and this year earned a 5-Star rating from CMS; and in contrast to a number of other Washington hospitals they have maintained financial stability through challenges such as Covid, inflation, and reimbursement challenges.

The issues facing healthcare are complex and often interrelated, and I look forward to continuing to participate in the discussions as we move forward. I encourage anyone with questions to reach out to me, or to any of the commissioners.

DeLong: Our family is excited about the new hospital, but I have concerns for how Samaritan is managing its finances when it requires a community-funded hospital TAX that was previously touted as a “non-option” by leadership. We have to question if the financial instability is due to the number of physicians leaving our hometown, putting the hospital and clinics in a situation where only temporary physicians or outside professionals are the main option for care. Countless local residents, myself included, have felt the sting of revolving door care options for nearly a decade, and with it came outside entities like Providence and Confluence as our options. While grateful for all Healthcare choices, I feel we need someone on the board to challenge the status quo who can push for transparency, physician retention, financial responsibility, and guide Samaritan toward a brighter future for Moses Lake. This is my home town, and I feel like my neighbors and family need a representative on the Hospital Board willing to guide the change needed.

What are the three most important issues you see facing the hospital district?

Christian: 1: Like all industries local and nationally, workforce recruitment and retention is a challenge, particularly post-Covid. The District has been effective in recruiting for physicians and other healthcare providers, and continues to recruit. But workforce data indicates that the “take a job and stay for life” ethic that marked my younger years is no longer common, and the reasons for leaving a position are often personal rather than job-related. National data pegs a turnover rate in healthcare at 22.5% annually; we are challenged to address those issues that are within the District’s control. The recent development of a partnership with the WSU medical school is an important step toward recruitment.

2: Healthcare is not exempt from cost increases; inflation has affected supplies, purchased services, and salary/benefit costs. However, healthcare providers are also impacted by declining reimbursement from governmental and private insurers. The District must continuously balance those factors: addressing current needs, anticipating what changes will be in the future, and ensuring decisions are sustainable.

3: Maintaining and growing our physical resources such as medical office space and the hospital is critical to ensure that we can meet the needs of our growing population into the future.

DeLong: 1: Physician and employee retention. 2: Fiscal responsibility and stewardship of the bond money. 3: Increased transparency and dialogue with the public served by a Public Hospital.

What are your three most important goals, if elected?

Christian: My background includes clinical experience in a variety of settings; management of a medical practice; and 20 years of engagement in the challenges of rural healthcare here in the basin. I would like to see continued development of partnerships such as our growing relationship with the WSU medical school to promote physician recruitment; the Grand Columbia Health Alliance supports healthcare across the central basin, increasing access to both primary and specialty care. Other partnerships are bringing advanced specialty support to our local physicians and their patients through tele-NICU, tele-Stroke, and tele-neurology programs. And I look forward to the completion of the new hospital building, on budget and on time, to meet the current and future needs of our growing population.

DeLong: 1: Increase transparency and accessibility to board members and executives - virtual meeting options for the public, posting detailed meeting minutes online, and provide less formal engagement opportunities for staff with board members AND executives.

2: Re-evaluate the hiring and RETENTION process for clinical professionals being brought into the employ of Samaritan to mitigate overspending for temporary staff and constant turnover of Physicians.

3: Hold the executive team accountable for creating a culture within our hometown’s Public Hospital that mirrors the community it represents and serves.