The Orcas clinic transition is scheduled to officially occur on April 1st. This has been years, if not decades, in the making, and as we near the date things have grown complicated. For those of you who have been on Orcas for a while, this will feel like a familiar situation. As a community, we have struggled with medical care. We are too small a population to support multiple clinics, yet we have had doctors splinter off from the primary clinic (built by the community in the ’90s) when they feel it is no longer a good fit. A couple of years ago, we turned to UW hoping its Neighborhood Clinic model would be a good fit, but it is a model that relies on access to after-hours care and other urban supports unavailable in our rural setting so the model did not quite fit either.

When Orcas passed the Public Hospital Taxing District in 2018 and elected a qualified team of commissioners to the Orcas Island Health Care District, the commissioners went right to work, researching the issues, assessing the tax funding, and developing a strategic plan. We hoped their plan would provide a sustainable model. And it is just about to. The commissioners are navigating consolidation of the two clinics and contracting with Island Hospital to establish a unified medical system providing basic care as well as after-hours care, behavioral health, and even a working x-ray machine.

Unfortunately, two of the docs who currently are at the UW clinic have opted not to sign on with Island Hospital. Dr. Russell has stated that he is taking a break and will consider options in a while Dr. Alprin has not expressed his plans. Patients for both are understandably sad and dismayed.

But before we run off to establish an additional clinic, I hope everyone will stop and think about where we have been and what we are striving for. History shows that it is not economically feasible (even with deep philanthropic support) to sustain multiple clinics on Orcas. If we go back to that, we will forever be struggling with inadequate resources and lack the needed support system to manage healthcare locally. For many who go off-island for care, that is fine. But for the many who cannot travel for care or need immediate attention, access to local healthcare is essential.

The Orcas Island Health Care District commissioners have so diligently worked to establish a vision and it is so close to being a reality. Let’s give it a shot. A unified clinic will be a great step forward in better care for all.

Stay well,