INTRO

WELCOME TO THE COMMISSIONERS CORNER

WhidbeyHealth is the operating arm of the Whidbey Island Hospital District, founded at our opening in 1951.

This means that WhidbeyHealth is owned by our community.

Oversight of WhidbeyHealth is the responsibility of five publicly elected Commissioners much like other special districts on our island such as the Port of South Whidbey.

Each month we'll be sharing information and insights from one of the commissioners regarding their role and their perspectives on current topics of interest to the community. These articles will be posted here and will be included in the monthly PULSE.

Ron Wallin
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Ron Wallin, Board President
District 3 Commissioner

WhidbeyHealth is a public hospital district, organized to provide for the health of everyone on Whidbey Island. Oversight is provided by a Board of five elected Commissioners.

This month's contribution from the Board of Commissioners comes from President Ron Wallin.

To fully understand the present, we should understand the route which brought us here. This article is not so much a history lesson as it is an object lesson that speaks to the character of our community.

In the late 1800's, contagious diseases like diphtheria, smallpox and tuberculosis were sweeping the nation. Women throughout the island were taking in the sick in 'home hospitals.' At great risk to themselves, isolating sick patients helped contain the spread of disease.

Historians noted that our island is a generous, welcoming place to live.

Maternity care was an area of particular concern as traveling to hospitals in Seattle often threatened the lives of newborns and moms. The Olson family operated the Deception Pass ferry, cautioning patrons that service was "subject to storms, breakdowns and conditions beyond our control."

Like many changes in healthcare, Whidbey's women demanded better. The "Twill-Do Maternity Home" was opened in 1934. From the very beginning, it was locally operated and staffed and eliminated perilous trips to Seattle hospitals.

Once again, our community was taking care of one another.

But home hospitals and a maternity home were simply not enough. Modern medicine evolved beyond the capacity of untrained volunteers and courageous nurses. Patients needed more doctors, and sophisticated treatments which required a pharmacy. X-Rays were needed to help surgeons treat fractures and other injuries.

Whidbey Island needed its own hospital.

An Oak Harbor dentist first proposed a local hospital in 1944, but his effort didn't go very far. Once again: in 1957, women stepped in to create 'guilds' to organize fundraising and galvanize support from the community.

Voters approved the formation of the Whidbey Island Hospital District in 1962, supported by the first tax levy. Whidbey General Hospital opened its doors in 1970, a full 26 years after one resident inspired others to help family and friends.

My point is this: It is in our community's nature to take care of each other.

This was proven repeatedly as COVID-19 descended on us and women once again organized community members to make thousands of masks to protect staff and patients. Residents donated generously to the Foundation to help offset the crushing costs of the pandemic. Our service clubs joined forces to procure personal protective equipment when conventional supply chains struggled.

When vaccines finally arrived on the scene, dozens of volunteer providers signed up to create Whidbey Island's first inoculation clinic, eventually delivering almost 18,000 shots. Dozens more volunteers stepped forward to help as registrars, parking attendants, concierges to help patients along the process and manage the waiting room at the end of the vaccination process.

We do things our own way on Whidbey.

We knew we couldn't wait until help came from the state or other officials. We knew that inaction would be as dangerous as the pandemic itself. We knew it was urgent to get ahead of the problem and to take steps to protect family and friends on the island.

Especially in the early stages, WhidbeyHealth's staff and community volunteers joined forces to lead in defending each other from infection and safely treat the unfortunate few who fell ill. COVID-19 is not the first pandemic to invade Whidbey Island. In many ways, we have been getting ready for decades.

For more than 100 years, we have known what's best for our little slice of paradise. We have our own schools, our own libraries, and our own economy.

We have our own hospital.

To your good health, 

Ron Wallin

Nancy Fey

Each month, the PULSE team interviews one of the five elected Commissioner who provide oversight of the operations of the WhidbeyHealth hospital and network of clinics.

This month, we spoke with Nancy Fey, District 4 Commissioner.

PULSE: What is it like to be on the Board of Commissioners?

Commissioner Fey: It is truly an honor and a privilege to support our hospital as well as help our community to understand the important role WhidbeyHealth plays in keeping us all healthy. I am particularly excited with the makeup of the current Board. The current Board of five Whidbey Island residents are all eager to help guide the administration and work on continuous improvements in the services which benefit us all.

PULSE: What's on your radar right now? What are you paying close attention to?

Commissioner Fey: I think it's important for the community to understand the importance of keeping our health system local, in our own neighborhoods, easily accessible, and owned by our community.

We are a small community on this island, but no less deserving of having out own medical services system that we control and that operates to meet our needs and delivers what we really want.

Every healthcare system has challenges to overcome and non is perfect, not even the 'prestigious' medical centers. There are opportunities to improve everything we do - and there will always be.

But on of the interesting things about Whidbey Island is this: it is in our nature to solve our local problems with local resources - and do it together. We have seen this with our schools, our parks, and certainly with our healthcare system as thousands of residents have appeared to help during the pandemic.

PULSE: 2021 is the 51st year of operation. You've been very involved for several years as a pharmacist and now as a Commissioner.

Commissioner Fey: Yes, and we have all seen many changes over time. Can you imagine what life was like before we had our own hospital and clinics on the island? Mothers in labor drove over an hour, often having to wait for a ferry to get to a hospital in time for their baby's birth. When families needed medical care for their children, long trips were required over the bridge of via ferry. Cancer patients were making many, many trips to Seattle for regular chemotherapy treatment. Today, our babies are born here, our children can be seen in the Emergency Department or Walk-In Clinics, and our neighbors fighting cancer can get treatment right here, close to home.

PULSE: What do you see in the future? What's coming up?

Commissioner Fey: We are all excited at the progress toward achieving national accreditation by DNV. The process itself has contributed to many improvement initiatives and once complete will be yet another reason to be proud of our local system.

Thanks to the US Department of Agriculture investment of $37 million, we will be able to move forward with the facilities master plan and make sorely needed structural improvements which have been deferred too long.

We really are delivering on that promise of exceptional care by exceptional caregivers, close to home. 

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Nancy Fey, Board Secretary
District 4 Commissioner
Kurt Blankenship
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Kurt Blankenship
District 2 Commissioner

WhidbeyHealth is a public hospital district, organized to provide for the health of everyone on Whidbey Island. Oversight is provided by a Board of five elected Commissioners.

This month, we spoke with Kurt Blankenship, District 2 Commissioner.

PULSE: Tell us a little about how the Board works today.

Commissioner Blankenship: Today’s Board is deeply connected to the operation of WhidbeyHealth, more than ever before, through regular committee meetings, Board meetings, and individual meetings with the executive leadership. It’s much more involved than just a three-hour Board meeting once a month. A new program of work session meetings has greatly enhanced our ability to work collaboratively and to review and contribute to planning.

PULSE: Why did you decide to become a Commissioner?

Commissioner Blankenship: As an attorney, most of my 43 year long legal career has involved supporting and advising physicians and healthcare organizations, including public hospital districts like ours. Constant increases in government regulation have added enormous complexity to healthcare operations and I am in a unique position to contribute my experience to our local system.

PULSE: What’s on the horizon?

Commissioner Blankenship: We are engaged in an organized, long range planning process to improve access to healthcare for everyone on the island, while improving operating efficiency and reducing cost.

For example: we hope to develop a tract of land next to the hospital to create a convenient, ‘one-stop’ location where primary and specialty care services can be combined with imaging and lab services. This is just one of many infrastructure improvements planned throughout the hospital system.

PULSE: What do you want the community to know?

Commissioner Blankenship: All of the commissioners are eager to hear from the public. I can be contacted at: wghdistrict2@whidbeyhealth.org 

Grethe Cammermyer

We spoke with Dr. Cammermyer and asked about the role of a Commissioner. She explained that the role of a Commissioner goes far beyond the monthly Board meetings which are now held online.

Each of the commissioners work on multiple committees and each have a simultaneous role in addressing short-term and more long-term opportunities to expand WhidbeyHealth presence for today and the future. There is a synchronicity between the Board of Commissioners and the current WhidbeyHealth Medical Center Administration that is unique, fostering trust, mutual respect and delight as we envision moving forward beyond the Pandemic.

“Really,” she continued “the role of the Board is to support WhidbeyHealth for the good of the community. Part of the job is to act as a liaison between the hospital and the community, to make sure that questions and concerns by residents are heard. It is also important to convey factual information to help everyone understand the complex challenges.”

Exciting times are ahead as we move forward to expand our capacity, services, and consolidate resources to be the best stewards we can be.”

April 2021

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Dr. Grethe Cammermyer, RN, PhD
District 1 Commissioner
Contact information

JOIN US: Commission meetings are open to the public and held online on the second Wednesday of each month. Learn more about Dr. Cammermyer and how to attend meetings here

We welcome your questions and topics of interest. Just email them to: myhospital@whidbeyhealth.org