There is no hospital on Vashon Island – never has been. No medical specialists practice on the island. Residents must travel to the mainland to access those services. Only primary care is available on Vashon, and sustaining it has been a challenge, on and off, for half a century.
That challenge intensified after 2010 as the economics of health care in the U.S. changed. Between 2010 and 2016, three independent practices on Vashon closed. That left the health center at Sunrise Ridge, then operated by CHI Franciscan, as the only standard primary care clinic on the island.
In 2016 CHI Franciscan announced it would close the clinic because of ongoing financial difficulties. Island volunteers mobilized and, with help from political allies, persuaded NeighborCare Health of Seattle to assume operation of the clinic. Islanders donated more than $400,000 to cover what NeighborCare projected its losses would be over the first two years.
But in 2018 NeighborCare said it, too, was experiencing unsustainable financial losses, and the clinic almost certainly would close unless a solution was found.
In early 2019 citizen volunteers circulated petitions and succeeded in placing a measure on the ballot to establish a Public Hospital District. The district would have authority to collect property taxes to subsidize primary care and other health care services.
In the November 2019 election, Vashon voters resoundingly approved formation of the District with a 71% voting “yes.” Five commissioners to govern the district also were elected.
In hopes of reducing confusion, as one of their first actions commissioners changed the District’s working name from King County Public Hospital District #5 to Vashon Health Care District.
In September 2020 the District signed a contract with Sea Mar Community Health Centers of Seattle. Sea Mar agreed to operate the Sunrise Ridge clinic; the District agreed to subsidize clinic operations and sublease the clinic building to Sea Mar.
Sea Mar began operating the clinic in partnership with the District in November 2020. In late 2022, Sea Mar informed the District it planned to operate the clinic independently, with no contractual relationship with — or subsidy from — the District. It also said it would build a new clinic in a more central island location.
Sea Mar and the District signed an agreement ending their official partnership in December 2022. Under its terms, the District will continue to sublease the Sunrise Ridge facilities to Sea Mar during construction of the new facility, and Sea Mar will keep the community informed and involved in its operations, give 12 months’ notice should its decide to withdraw services from the island, and provide an option for the District to assume the new facilities in that eventuality.
You can see the joint statement by the organizations here.
And you can see the agreement here.
As of Spring 2023, the District is engaged in a planning effort to identify and prioritize unmet health care needs on Vashon that it might employ its resources to address.