Health care is limited on Vashon. There is no hospital, and no medical specialists. Only primary care is available on the island, and sustaining even that 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 operating deficit 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 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 October 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. Sea Mar has been operating the clinic since November 2020.