Swedish/Edmonds merger dominates hospital commission candidate forum discussion Monday

A theme emerged among candidates participating in a forum for the Board of Commissioners for Public Hospital District No. 2 of Snohomish County. The merger between Swedish and Stevens hospitals has given the hospital commission a nice chunk of money to fund preventive health and advocacy programs, and it has also resulted in improved public perception of the hospital.

We’re providing a two-part summary of candidate presentations and responses to questions raised at the Monday night forum for hospital commission, school board and port commission candidates, which was sponsored by the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber’s Economic Development Committee. First up is the Hospital District Commission and the Port Commission. (Note that you can also watch these a taped broadcast of this forum starting at 7 a.m. this Thursday morning, Sept. 29, and each day for the next two weeks on Channels 21 and 39.)

Board of Commissioners for Public Hospital District 2:

Hospital Commission candidates at Monday night's forum, from left: Kerry Ayers, Eric Radcliffe, David Peterson and Karianna Wilson.

The Hospital Commission has undergone some changes since September 2010, when Stevens Hospital merged with Swedish/Edmonds. As part of that merger, the publicly-elected hospital board no longer governs day-to-day hospital operations but does oversee major decisions. The Hospital District 2 Board of Commissioners governs the Commission for Health, which was launched in August 2010 team to support the health care needs of the five cities (Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Brier and Bothell) included in the hospital district.

Part of the commission’s mission is to support local health promotions and disease prevention actions through partnerships with city government, school districts, local businesses, nonprofit organizations and community groups. (Examples include senior services, parenting classes, free bicycle helmets, dental supplies and a mental health provider network.)

Funding for the programs will come from the $7.2 million in annual hospital lease payments from Swedish and other income, including property taxes, which will bring the commission’s annual revenue this year to about $9 million.

Hospital District No. 2 has five commissioners and three of them are up for election in November. Here are the statements of the candidates attending the forum (the two incumbent candidates — Deanna Knutsen for Position 1 and Bob Knowles for Position 3 — did not attend), plus questions and answers:

Position 1
Kerry Ayers

Ayers has served in volunteer roles for several South Snohomish County organizations and is executive director of the Edmonds Community Foundation, which works to ensure that families in crisis receive food and community resources. Those experiences, plus her work as operations director of the Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, have made her “keenly aware of the many health related issues that face our community.”  Ayers added: “Having Swedish as our partner in hospital administration allows the Commission for Health to focus on the gaps and needs made larger by our changing economy and numerous state and federal budget cuts. We are fortunate in these times to be in a good position to work on the commission’s priorities of education and empowerment, prevention, access to health care services, and policy and advocacy.” In particular, Ayers said she is committed to ensuring that the mental health needs of the community are addressed.

Position 3
Eric Radcliffe

Radcliffe has worked as a health care professional for seven years, currently serving both administrator and clinical roles. “Health care is really one of my passions. I plan to stay in health care for as long as my career goes.” He’s lived in the Lynnwood/Edmonds area for the past 30 years. He’s also serves on the board of Clothes for Kids, which provides clothing for low-income school children in the Edmonds School District. “This commission really has a unique opportunity here,” Radcliffe said. “To have the opportunity of…almost $10 million coming in to use to further health care in the area? It doesn’t get much better than that. The difference that that amount of money can make is astonishing.” Radcliffe said he believes the Swedish/Stevens merger so far is “going very well.” Prior to the merger, Stevens had a poor image in the community, but the Swedish affiliation has changed that perception. “People are more trusting of the organization,” he said.

Position 4
David S. Peterson

Peterson is a long-time resident of Edmonds who recently retired from the Snohomish County Health District, where he served as director of communicable disease control programs  and public health emergency preparedness. He said he looks forward to putting his experience working with the health district into the preventive health programs of the Commission, and to addressing ways to improve the health of the 240,000 individuals living in the hospital district.

Position 4
Karianna Wilson

Wilson said her experience in health care — she is currently the chief operating officer of the largest independent physician group in the state of Washington — is what the hospital commission needs. “I am very familiar with the health care needs of the community and it’s frankly something that I’m passionate about, it’s what I care about and it’s what I do every day,” Wilson said. In addition, her finance and management oversight background “is a skill set that’s needed,” she noted.

Excerpts from the Q&A, with questions posed by moderator Chris Keuss:

To Kerry Ayers:

As of September 2010 hospital affiliation with Swedish, the board no longer governs the day-to-day operations of the hospital. However, the board does retain oversight of major hospital decisions. What in your mind represent major hospital decisions?

“I think it’s important that our infrastructure be protected at Swedish/Stevens,” Ayers said, adding there are “several areas of performance that we’ll want to monitor and make sure our community is well-served by,” including areas of executive leadership at the hospital.

To Eric Radcliffe:

What are the challenges you perceive from the Swedish/Stevens medical merge?

Radcliffe said the challenge “is not unique to Swedish/Edmonds or the local area. It’s just the changing dynamics of the economy and the level of patients we’re seeing: a lot of unhealthy patients coming into the hospital who don’t have preventive care and that creates a real strain for an organization like Swedish. Along with that is the level of uncompensated care coming in. It’s balancing treating everyone and not turning anyone away and also being able to keep the lights on.”

To David Peterson:

With $7.2 million coming in almost every year from Swedish, should the (hospital) district tax be eliminated? Why or why not?

Peterson said that while the $7.million is “a substantial amount of money coming into the community,”  he believes it’s “too early to tell how much will be needed in the performance of the goals that the Hospital District has set forth for promoting health, access to care  and health advocacy. At some point down the line, it will be necessary to reconcile how much money is being raised through the tax levy on the community and how much is actually being spent,” he said. It’s important to keep in mind that the hospital district still owns the grounds, the property and hospital building, and as such should maintain a substantial reserve fund for necessary future maintenance and improvements, he said. “There may be some point in the future where the levy can be reduced. Right now it’s at an extremely low level — at about 9 cents per thousand,” he added.

To Karianna Wilson:

Over $7 million a year comes in from the annual lease from Swedish to the hospital district. $6.3 million remains unallocated. Where or for what type of programs should the remaining dollars be allocated?

Wilson said those priorities should be evaluated by staff and commissioners based on proposals that are submitted but added her list of items “that are near and dear to my heart.” They include childhood obesity and fall prevention programs for senior citizens, and access to community health clinics.

Port Commission:

David Preston

David Preston, who is running unopposed for Port Commissioner position 2, has lived in Edmonds since 1966 and has been an insurance agent at small insurance brokerage for two decades. He also owned a sailboat at age 15, followed later by a power boat, and noted that Edmonds has one of the greatest marinas in the United States. In a brief statement, he promised to conduct “a careful evaluation” of the key issues that come before the port, including environmental concerns involving the Edmonds Marsh and the waterfront.

Coming next: Edmonds School Board candidates


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