QUILCENE — Candidates for the Jefferson Healthcare hospital commission talked about the skills they could bring to the job and their goals for the hospital based in Port Townsend, which serves East Jefferson County.
Former Port Townsend Paper Corp. mill manager Bruce McComas and nurse-midwife Cheri Van Hoover faced off in a forum hosted by the local branches of the League of Women Voters and American Association of University Women in Quilcene on Thursday, answering questions from the 24 people who attended.
McComas and Van Hoover are on the Nov. 7 ballot, running for the District 2 position currently held by Tony DeLeo, who has held the position for nearly 40 years but chose not to run again this year.
McComas — who retired in 2008 as vice president and general manager of Port Townsend Paper Corp. — said his experience managing the paper mill gives him an edge when it comes to the job of hospital commissioner.
“I understand the complexity of a 24-hour operation of that size,” McComas said in his opening statement.
McComas also noted his background in the founding of such local nonprofit groups as Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County and the Jefferson Community Foundation, as well as his service on the Port Townsend School Board from 1993 to 2000.
“I understand the difference between management and governance since I’ve done both,” McComas said.
McComas said his health care experience stems entirely from his time as a caregiver for his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and died in October 2016. Since then, McComas has been part of the hospital’s oncology, advisory board, family advisory council and a patient cost advisory team.
“I’ve already been working to make the health care system better,” McComas said.
Van Hoover — a certified nurse-midwife, health policy instructor for Philadelphia University and small-business owner in Port Hadlock — said her background as a health care provider and as an instructor on health care policy would make her an asset to the hospital commission.
Van Hoover has worked as a nurse-midwife in public and private practice and has taught a course on health care policy for 13 years.
“There is no one on the board who has a health care policy background like mine,” Van Hoover said.
Van Hoover said that if elected, her priorities for the hospital would be the recruitment and retention of primary care providers, the integration of mental health into primary care and providing more access to dental care.
McComas had similar goals. He said his main priority is access to care, which would include finding more primary care providers. Costs of care and proximity of care are also important aspects, he said.
“The question is, how do we lower the cost so people get the health care they need and deserve?” McComas said. “Quality health care should be close to home, so we need to carefully expand services.”
McComas added that many services that need to be expanded are those catering to Jefferson County’s aging population.
Both candidates said the commission should continue to gather information on how to recruit primary care providers, and both agreed the hospital should seek to hire a mix of primary care providers including physicians, physician’s assistants and nurses.
Van Hoover stressed that commissioners also needed to look at how to extend medical services to the entire county.
“Any programs put in place need to be sustainable,” Van Hoover said. “However, I think it’s really important to look at the whole county.”
Van Hoover stressed the need for accessibility to preventive care, including nutrition and exercise classes.
McComas said hospital officials will need to think “outside the box” when it comes to getting resources into the more rural part of Jefferson County. He suggested a model like a bookmobile — except it would be a clinic or pharmacy on wheels that could make routine visits to underserved areas.
When it came to some of the bigger issues — such as cuts to Medicare or Medicaid and if single payer should be an option — the two candidates agreed but noted the hospital commission would have little control over federal issues.
Both Van Hoover and McComas noted that cuts to programs like Medicaid would be detrimental to the hospital, but since it is a public district, the community would have some say in how it was handled.
Both spoke in favor of single-payer health care but noted it is an issue not dealt with by the hospital commission.
The candidates for Port of Port Townsend commissioner District 3 were also invited to the forum. However, neither Keith Beck nor Pete Hanke attended.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected]