PORT TOWNSEND — An unopposed incumbent for an East Jefferson County Hospital District commissioners seat now has an official write-in candidate as an opponent.
Cheri Van Hoover of Port Hadlock will challenge Jill Buhler Rienstra for hospital commissioner Position 5.
Election day is Tuesday, with in-person and drop-box voting closing at 8 p.m.
While Buhler Rienstra’s name will be the only one on the ballot for the position, Van Hoover registered Oct. 21 and is the only official write-in candidate countywide, Election Coordinator Quinn Grewell said Monday.
“Usually if you’re going to put your name forward for a position, you want to have that opportunity to let it be known rather than at the last minute,” Van Hoover said Wednesday.
She said she learned she had to register in order for any write-in votes to count toward her election, and she was encouraged by supporters to engage in a late write-in campaign.
“I feel like people have so much trust and confidence in me that the very least I can do is make sure their votes count,” Van Hoover said.
Buhler Rienstra is seeking a fourth re-election to a six-year term. She’s served on the hospital commission for 24 years, first appointed in 1995 and elected for the first time soon afterward.
Currently the commission chair, she said she’s worked closely with the Board of Public Health for 10 years and also has represented Jefferson Healthcare at both the state and federal legislative levels.
“Right now we are in the most precarious position that we have been in that we are moving from fee-for-service [models] to value-based reinforcement, which is a giant shift,” Buhler Rienstra said. “We’re moving from treatment and an emphasis on treatment for the diseases to preventing the disease.
“It’s a good fit for everybody, but it’s not without its challenges.”
Van Hoover is a certified nurse midwife and advanced practice clinician who has taught master’s level courses on health policy for the past 14 years through Thomas Jefferson University’s distance-learning program. The university is located in Philadelphia.
She is part of the university’s midwifery faculty and also teaches reproductive and sexual health care through the distance-learning program.
Van Hoover unsuccessfully ran for a hospital commission seat in 2017, falling to Bruce McComas for the Position 1 seat by 97 votes, according to the Jefferson County Elections Division.
The difference in the 13,327 total votes cast was 0.72 percent.
Van Hoover said she’s worked at university hospitals and small community hospitals, both private and nonprofit.
“I have a really comprehensive overview of how health care is delivered and how health care is reimbursed,” she said. “I also know what works and what doesn’t.”
Van Hoover said her priorities would be health care access, affordability, excellence and comprehensive care.
“I don’t feel there is anyone on the board currently who has my mix of both technical and theoretical understanding and practical understanding from the clinical perspective,” she said.
Buhler Rienstra emphasized her community service as being a past president of the Chamber of Jefferson County and a board member for the Northwest Maritime Center. She is a member of both the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.
Her long-term projects on the hospital commission include both a 10-year master plan of the facilities on Sheridan Street and making sure everyone has access to care.
“My focus is on all of the people, not just one segment,” she said. “It’s for everyone in our community, regardless of their ability to pay.
“Not just women, not just men, not just one area. It’s the entire community.”
Van Hoover said there are some things the board could do to help from a policy perspective.
“The hospital district board does not do administration, it sets policy that then helps to guide the practice of the hospital administrator,” she said.
“The way I would help in those regards would be clearly articulating my values of health care being a fundamental right, every individual being treated with respect and compassion, and with careful analysis and questioning about how and why it’s being done.”
Buhler Rienstra pointed to Jefferson Healthcare’s 20 different specialists and seven separate clinics from Port Townsend to Quilcene, and she also highlighted a dental clinic that opened in June — the first in the state for a critical-access hospital, she said.
Behavioral health also is an immediate priority that can be aided with legislative changes, she said.
Across the board, however, Buhler Rienstra said reimbursement continues to be the biggest challenge.
“We have a very complicated reimbursement system,” she said, “and we are working with a strong network of experts and legislators and congressional representatives to help us get to the end of the road in a good, positive way where Jefferson Healthcare remains strong and local and not bought out by some larger medical group as are many rural hospitals at this point.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].