SEQUIM — Already frustrated by a dearth of health care options on the Olympic Peninsula, some patients with Harrison HealthPartners Dermatology got worse news in early April: the clinic is closing.
The clinic at 565 Eureka Way in Sequim will close May 15, with the last day for patients May 12, according to representatives with Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, the clinic’s parent company.
“As our health system, like others across the industry, experiences significant operational challenges, we are taking a number of steps to find efficiencies while continuing to maintain critical services,” said Dr. Donna Smith, president of Franciscan Medical Group and senior vice president of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, in an email on Monday.
“As part of these efforts, we have made the difficult decision to discontinue dermatology services in Sequim,” she said.
“We are working closely with impacted staff and patients to ensure no disruption in care. We remain committed to investing our resources in the delivery of high-quality care within our communities.”
Sequim resident Charles Sullivan said he and his wife have used the clinic for years.
“They’re really a valuable tool around here,” Sullivan said. “There aren’t a lot of good options around here.”
According to a Seattle Times article on April 6, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health laid off nearly 400 staffers across its 10 hospitals and hundreds of clinics in the Puget Sound region, citing “tremendous financial strain” in the state’s healthcare industry.
Kelly Campbell, vice president of marketing and communications of the Tacoma-based hospital system, said in a statement that Virginia Mason Franciscan Health has taken a financial hit in the past year thanks to inflation, labor shortages and pandemic impacts, the Times story reported.
Virginia Mason Franciscan Health’s workforce includes about 19,000 people across 10 hospitals and about 300 clinics and other facilities in the region, according to the Times. Staffers in “non-patient-facing” roles were primarily affected, though a company spokesperson did not say if others who work directly with patients also were let go.
The clinic’s origins date back to the early 2000s. Dermatologist Claire Haycox came to the Olympic Peninsula in 1999 to work for Virginia Mason Medical Center, and when the company pulled out in 2002 she established Valley Dermatology. She ran the business though Oct. 1, 2013, when she sold the business to Harrison HealthPartners.
Sequim resident Paul Otis said he and his late wife used the Harrison HealthPartners Dermatology clinic for years; his wife was a patient of Haycox.
“What bothered me the most is, I just received a letter from them saying it’s time to make an appointment for your annual exam with a provider,” Otis said, and then got a follow-up call that indicated the clinic staff wasn’t making any appointments.
“The sad thing is, what are they going to do with the employees?”
Otis said he’s been treated at the Harrison clinic by Dan Walkowski, a certified physician assistant specializing in dermatology.
“I’ve been seeing him for years; I would like to stay with his services,” Otis said.
Otis said he gets his other health care needs through the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and will seek dermatology services there.
“I’m just at a loss [for words],” said Sequim resident John Glavin, who said he’s used the clinic for more than 10 years. He heard the news of the clinic’s closure from a neighboring physician.
Port Angeles resident Kjersti Reed said she and her husband Robert John Reed have used Harrison HealthPartners Dermatology since 2014 and were Haycox’s patients prior to that.
She said her husband got a call on April 6, letting them know his appointment scheduled for September was canceled because the clinic is closing.
Reed said the couple was happy with the service they got at the Sequim clinic.
“The way they operated, [it] seemed very good,” she said. “They seemed to have a lot of patients, not enough doctors.”
Reed said she received treatment from longtime dermatologist Heidi Hermes.
“Dr. Hermes is wonderful,” Reed said, noting she called the office and urged Hermes’ staff to have the dermatologist open her own private clinic.
“We would love to have her stay.”
Reed said she and her husband got so frustrated with healthcare options on the Olympic Peninsula that they started getting treatment from an internist in Edmonds.
She said she’d be surprised if local dermatology clinics will be able to absorb so many new patients. As for the Reeds’ dermatology needs, she said, “we’ll go back to the drawing board.”