Bernie Donanberg, Bruce McComas and Cheri Van Hoover, from left, the three candidates for East Jefferson County Hospital District 2, Commissioner Position 1, answer questions at a forum in Chimacum on Wednesday. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Jefferson Healthcare hospital commission candidates agree on single-payer system

CHIMACUM — All three Primary Election candidates running for the Jefferson Healthcare hospital commission favor a single-payer system and all three are pro-choice, they said at a heavily-attended forum in Chimacum.

More than 100 people attended Wednesday night’s candidate forum for the Position 1 seat on the hospital commission — Bernie Donanberg, Bruce McComas and Cheri Van Hoover — and for the three Primary Election candidates for the District 5 seat on the Chimacum School Board — Jared Shepherd, Wilma Hackman and Jack McKay.

Many left the Tri-Area Community Center after the hospital commission candidates spoke and before the school board hopefuls’ forum began.

The county elections office mailed out primary election ballots Wednesday. The top two votegetters in the primaries will be on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. Primary ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 1 or returned to a ballot drop-box by 8 p.m. Aug. 1.

Hospital commission candidates Donanberg, McComas and Van Hoover called health care a right, not a privilege, and said they favor a single-payer system.

“As a hospital district we need to advocate to the state and to the federal government to let them know we can’t go on like this,” Donanberg said. “Single-payer health care is democratic health care.”

Candidates also were asked about health care costs.

McComas noted that the hospital could look at way to reduce costs to pass savings along to patients and both McComas and Van Hoover said that the hospitals billing process needs to be reviewed.

“Billing is definitely an area in need of improvement,” Van Hoover said. “Transparency in that process and getting people insured are both still issues as well.”

One community member said that Jefferson County has historically had one of the highest abortion rates in the state.

All three candidates said they were pro-choice and supported abortion services in Jefferson County. Van Hoover, who pointed out that her candidacy has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood Votes, added that while she is pro-choice, she is also concerned about the county’s high abortion rate.

“I’d like to address that rate and see if we can help women earlier in the process with access to birth control and contraceptives,” Van Hoover said.

All three candidates also agreed that there in a need to recruit and retain hospital staff and to focus on providing geriatric support to Jefferson County, which is one of the oldest counties in the state.

The hospital commissioner debate came down to the special skills that each candidate brought to the table.

Donanberg focused on his background in mental health as his best asset. Donanberg has a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and has worked at organizations in Skagit, Kitsap and Jefferson counties.

Most recently he was the director of what is now Discovery Behavioral Health, a local mental health care provider that was recently purchased by Jefferson Healthcare.

“That’s what really drew me to this race,” Donanberg said. “There’s no one else on the board with a mental health background. The system of mental health and substance abuse are completely different than the systems for basic health care, and I know the systems for mental health.”

McComas, the former general manager of Port Townsend Paper Corps. who current serves with a number of patient advocate groups at the hospital, said his financial background and ongoing work with the hospital gives him an edge over the other candidates.

“I am the only candidate, and would be the only one on the board, with a financial background,” McComas said. “I’m the only one who is currently, actively making the system better.”

McComas also said that he has a unique perspective as a patient caregiver. His wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and died in October 2016; McComas said through the process he learned the ins and outs of health care from the perspectives of a patient and a caregiver.

Van Hoover is a former mid-wife and nurse practitioner who worked for 30 years as a health care provider in the San Francisco Bay Area and then in Clallam County – mostly recently in the now closed Sequim Planned Parenthood.

She said that her varied experience as health care provider, small business owner and previous work at a crisis center would make her a valuable member of the hospital board.

“There is not one person on the board that I don’t respect and that I couldn’t work with,” Van Hoover said.

The school board candidates’ forum was similar to that of the hospital commission candidates in that the candidates held almost identical positions.

The three discussed the need for school funding, especially since the Chimacum District recently saw a bond fail in the last election.

“There really didn’t seem to be a topic that stood out,” said Sheila Murphy, a member of the League of Women Voters, one of the organizations that put on Wednesday’s forum.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected]

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