Olympic Medical Center board candidates tell of professional experience

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Hospital board incumbent Jean Hordyk and challenger Heather Jeffers at a forum this week complimented each other and said voters have a choice between board experience and professional knowledge.

The candidates for Olympic Medical Center Clallam Hospital District 2, Position 2, showed mutual respect during their Tuesday forum at a meeting of the Port Angeles Business Association as they fielded questions from about 20 members of the organization about how the hospital and other area medical providers will be affected by the Affordable Care Act.

Hordyk, an 18-year board veteran, said she had the deep experience with the board that comes only with the passage of time.

“It took me four years before I really knew what was going on,” Hordyk said.

She said she oversaw growth from fewer than 100 hospital employees to more than 1,100, as well as a complete remodel and modernization of the four walls that were there when she arrived.

However, she added, there are certain areas where Jeffers’ background as a social worker and medical administrator would be an advantage.

“I’m not as knowledgeable as Heather,” she said.

Jeffers, a nursing home administrator and specialist in hospital discharge planning, said she has a strong background in her field, which would be unique to the hospital board.

However, she admitted that she doesn’t know the many details that go into the hospital district’s governing board.

“I don’t have the experience Jean does,” said Jeffers, who is the administrator of Avamere Olympic Rehabilitation of Sequim.

Members of the business association asked the two how the local medical services will fare under the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

“Only time will tell,” Hordyk said.

Health care changes

Both candidates agreed that Obamacare will result in more people being covered by insurance but were uncertain whether the number of paid services will offset reductions in the rate at which medical services are paid.

Currently, Medicaid pays only about half of the hospital’s actual expenses, Hordyk said.

However, any payment is better than the current situation, she said, adding that many low-income families don’t have any insurance, and the hospital loses the money spent on treatment.

Hordyk said that with more low-income people being covered by medical insurance, the people who come in without insurance may shift toward the middle class.

People may be priced out of the insurance system but still have some means to pay, she said.

Saving money

With income uncertain, the hospitals will need to find ways to reduce expenses, the candidates agreed.

Jeffers, who manages a 125-bed skilled nursing facility, is intimately familiar with government medical insurance.

“My business is funded by Medicare and Medicaid. There is nothing I can cut. You have to do more with less,” she said.

She said the best way for the hospital district to save money and remain financially viable is to focus on prevention.

Hospitalization times

Insurance rules often result in sending patients home too soon, resulting in rehospitalization later, or may keep patients in the hospital for observation too long to prevent rehospitalization for the same illness or symptoms — which results in a second set of bills many insurance companies will not pay, Jeffers said.

She said that making sure patients aren’t discharged until it is certain a patient has the necessary care outside the hospital would help prevent unfunded hospitalizations.

Hordyk agreed with Jeffers and warned that costs must be cut to keep the hospital solvent.

“If we sit and do nothing, we may have to merge with another, larger facility,” Hordyk said.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 09. 2013 5:42PM
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