In 2015, the people of Grays Harbor County voted to form Public Hospital District (PHD) 2, making Grays Harbor Community Hospital (GHCH) a public hospital. There are more than 100 hospitals in Washington and 58 have established Public Hospital Districts that are funded by tax dollars and governed by publicly elected commissioners.
The board of commissioners for PHD 2 includes seven elected officials. The commissioners make up a diverse group of community members with varied backgrounds. There are five district members and two at large members. The majority of the time they devote to hospital governance is volunteer time, given because they see the value of the hospital to the community.
If you ask the PHD commissioners why they chose to serve on the board, most give variations of this same answer. “We have family and friends in Grays Harbor, and we need a sustainable hospital,” responds David Quigg, Commissioner At Large. “People at the hospital perform miracles every day, and we need to help them continue doing that. Quality healthcare is the lynch pin to our community.”
Commissioners help set strategy at a broad level, setting and monitoring hospital policy. They also act as fiduciary agents for taxpayers to make sure tax monies are being spent properly. Perhaps most importantly, they provide a connective tissue between the district and the community.
“Our main goal is to have a hospital. We do not manage the day to day operations of the hospital. We are partners with the administration to oversee the operation, on behalf of the public,” explains Andrew Bickar, Commissioner Position 4.
Providing Critical Services in a Challenging Environment
Maintaining a thriving hospital in a rural environment can prove challenging. GHCH is the only Level III Trauma Center in the county and serves an area that stretches from the south end of Clallam County down to South Bend. That area includes one of the poorest counties in the state and higher than average levels of risk factors such as obesity and smoking. Opioid use has grown steadily over the past 15 years, and homeless levels are high.
“As a public hospital, we care for everyone who walks into our emergency room. We’re going to do our best to solve that problem,” says Michael Bruce, Commissioner Position 2. “But at the same time, 80 percent of those patients are Medicare or Medicaid patients, and the government pays only a portion of the cost of care.”
The hospital commissioners and staff have worked hard over the past year, to increase efficiency and improve the financial stability of the hospital. That work has involved making some tough decisions, including reducing staff by roughly 18 percent.
“I’m particularly proud of what the staff has done to increase efficiency, in spite of the loss of their teammates and restructuring of their departments.” says Bickar. “Grays Harbor has again shown its resilience and strength while facing adversity and the unknown.”
Even during a difficult period, the hospital has continued to provide high-quality care, for instance our infection rates remain far lower than national average. We are also laying the groundwork for adding key services such as the cardiology clinic and catheterization lab and three-dimensional breast imaging available later in the summer.
Looking Ahead to Strategic Growth
While the hospital still has work to do to ensure solid financial footing, it has begun to climb out of survival mode. “We’re at the point as a commission where we need to revisit our strategic vision, our long-term plan,” says Bruce.
That long-term plan will likely include items such as:
- Recruiting and maintaining primary care providers
- Adding additional specialties and increasing provider depth in existing specialties
- Improving wait times in the emergency department
- Expanding services, particularly in Montesano, but also in Ocean Shores and Westport
- Improving response to opioid issues and mental illness
Another strategic goal, already underway, is to better serve the citizens of Grays Harbor County by working more closely with PHD 1, the hospital district that includes Summit Pacific. Though they differ in scope and, to some extent, in the problems they face, the two facilities share a common purpose.
Reaching these goals and maintaining a thriving hospital in Aberdeen ultimately depends on the people, both the exceptional employees and the public that supports them. As agents of the public, the PHD commissioners are working hard to ensure quality healthcare and fiscal responsibility.
“The staff and commissioners care,” says Chris Thomas, Commissioner Position 1. “We listen to patients, to the community. We bring our families here. We’re aware of issues like ER waits, and we are committed to fixing them.”
The Public Hospital District #2 commissioners hold meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month in GHCH Main Campus Conference Room C. Public meeting minutes and information are available at the hospital website.