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Posted on Apr 14, 2016

Surveys are a window into community’s mindset

By Jill FitzSimmons

It’s hard to predict what you will read when you sit down to go through some 450 public surveys.
Over the years, watching from the sidelines, I’ve learned that a public discussion can get out of hand pretty quickly. Emotions oftentimes win over critical thinking. Some people don’t know how to get a point across without being insulting. Others throw out misinformation as if it were fact.
So when the Quincy Valley Medical Center gave the public the opportunity to weigh in on its financial issues, sending out 5,200 surveys to households around the hospital district, I braced for the worst.
But I have to say, I’m proud of you, Quincy. Your feedback, for the most part, was thoughtful and heartfelt. It was honest. It showed that people want to have a seat at the table when determining what health care looks like in the Quincy Valley.
Sure, there were some less-than-constructive comments mixed in among the surveys. But here’s the thing. If you’re going to sound off like a surly malcontent, no one takes your message seriously anyway. All you got out of me was a dismissive turn of the page.
In those constructive comments, several themes seemed to pop up over and over. I’m not saying that I support any of them — only that they were views shared by many.
For example, several people, when asked if they would support a future bond measure to build a new hospital, wrote that they would not because Quincy School District voters recently passed a $107 million bond measure.
“Too much for seniors and others on a fixed income,” one person wrote. “We will already be paying for the school bond.”
Others wrote that they wouldn’t support a bond until the hospital pays down its $3.6 million debt to the county. They want the hospital to prove its “sustainability” first, as one person wrote.
“There needs to be more effort put on paying down the debt before coming to taxpayers and homeowners for a new facility,” a resident wrote. “There needs to be a clear plan in place on how you are going to achieve getting the debt load down.”
“How would you not lose money on a smaller ER?,” another resident wrote. “You still have the uninsured, the concert-goers and the other medical facility around. You have no wiggle room with the bond, so we would be paying more money on top of losing money.”
A common frustration voiced on the surveys was the rural hospital’s inability to attract physicians who want to call Quincy home. Several people wrote of a desire to see doctors who would build a long-term relationship with the community, to end the “revolving door” of care.
“Being happy with a doctor at the clinic and then having them suddenly leave has happened too many times,” one person wrote.
And, perhaps as a direct fallout, several people wrote of being unwilling to seek primary care at the local hospital because they have established care outside of Quincy. More specifically, with Confluence Health in Wenatchee. In fact, several people asked, in a variety of ways, why the hospital was not already partnering with Confluence Health.
“This seems to be the age of joint agreements between hospitals and sharing equipment and services,” one person wrote. “Would an agreement with another major hospital provide some sharing of services and personnel?”
But not everyone is going out of town for their care. Many loyal patients passed along their kudos to the hospital. And at least one person out there is traveling to Quincy for medical care.
“Visiting the Quincy ER is out of town for me,” the person wrote. “I live in East Wenatchee. I still come here for the ER. After including the 30 minutes to drive out here and another 30 minutes home, I can still be seen, helped and back home before even getting into an ER cubicle at Confluence.”
A frustration with the hospital’s billing system was another strong theme among the surveys. “I have a long history with Quincy Valley Medical Center,” one man wrote. “In the last four years I’ve spent roughly $10,000 with you folks. I won’t be back until the billing changes.”
Some suggested Quincy doesn’t need an emergency room. The community should instead beef up the local ambulance service to focus on transporting patients directly to neighboring facilities, those people said.
“Quincy needs to be strictly trauma-related,” wrote one person. “Stabilize and evaluate the patients’ needs and pass them to a bigger hospital specializing in after-trauma care.”
Many people also believe a long-term facility, while a financial drain on the hospital, is valuable in a small community.
“Over the years, we have had a number of much loved people in the extended care facility,” one person wrote. “Having them in our community we were able to visit them at will and help care for their needs. It’s difficult, even impossible, to put a value on that.”
And still a handful of others questioned what the city’s role in all this is. “We see tax money from new building lavished on city projects while the hospital struggles,” one person wrote. “Doesn’t seem right.”
Some of the comments were deeply personal. People mentioned family members receiving life-saving treatment in the emergency room. Others wrote of being born at the hospital. And some wrote of wanting to spend their last days in their hometown.
“I am 88+, widowed and must ask for a ride to Wenatchee even though I still drive in town,” one woman wrote. “I would like a hometown doctor for the clinic and an ER. I want to stay in my hometown as I get older. I want to receive my hospitalization and long-term care in my hometown, where my family lives.”
After reading the surveys, I certainly didn’t come up with any solutions for saving the hospital district from financial ruin. What I did walk away with was a better appreciation for the hard decisions that are coming soon — very soon — to this community.
I’m going to leave you with one last thought. It’s not my thought, but one that comes from one enlightened resident who seemed to be speaking directly to hospital and community leaders:
“Do the best you can for all of us, as we dearly love our hospital and wish to have some part remain that can help us to best live our lives.”

Jill FitzSimmons is the editor of the Quincy Valley Post-Register.