By Catherine Wiley, president, South Curry Health Care Alliance

Are you wondering if your elected officials and public employees are listening to you and what you want for yourself, your family, and your community?

Do you ever wonder if you are working for them, or if they are working for you?

Perhaps it’s time to pay attention and get involved. Perhaps it’s time to remind them who’s paying the bills and who will be voting. The issues of unnecessarily destroying the public’s trees may not be so different from other public officials’ decisions: like the life and death decisions of health care services.

These are not partisan, political issues. These are issues that define our community, our economic growth, and our lives.

The South Curry Health Care Alliance (SCHCA) invites your involvement, and challenges you to join the conversation before we are informed that it’s “too late.”

South Curry, 97415, sent a very strong message two years ago: we do not want to be annexed to the Curry Health District. Over 63 percent of South Curry’s voters rejected the annexation ballot measure. This included all precincts within the Brookings City boundaries. So, what has happened about the promised Emergency department that we were assured we’d get two years ago, whether we annexed or not? Basically the same thing that happened to the hospital we were supposed to get over 10 years ago.

SCHCA has discovered, and verified a lot of information. The Curry Health District (CHD) Board voted to have an Emergency Department (E.D.) in Brookings back in 2013. That vote was conditional: 97415 had to pay for it. That may sound reasonable, until everyone acknowledges that the CHD could not survive without the patient service revenue from South Curry. The last known percentage of revenue to the CHD from those living in 97415 exceeded 56 percent.

So, who decided on an Emergency Department in Brookings instead of a hospital? Really good question! We found no public meetings. No public vote. No public information provided before the 2015 Brookings/CHD annexation ballot measure was presented. No one has addressed the urgency of having an Emergency Department in Brookings over the past two years. Why the urgency since the new Curry General was opened?

We suggest that you follow the money. Tens of thousands of local taxpayer dollars have been spent by Brookings and the CHD to establish a brand new option in Oregon: the stand-alone/freestanding Emergency department. Be aware that the condition added was that the E.D. would have to be run by a hospital in the same county. Over $108,000 were spent on a lobbyist and attorneys to implement that new Administrative Rule. The tens of thousands more in travel, meetings, promotions, and the cost of the ballot measure are still not known.

Then, follow revenues and expenditures. The CHD has over $50 million in debt, including interest on loans and bonds. The highest revenues for patient care come from emergency room visits and surgeries. Be aware that Oregon requires that emergency patients are transported to the nearest E.D. Right now, that is Sutter (based on mileage from Fifth Street). If the CHD has an emergency room in Brookings, the Sutter option is effectively eliminated. The majority of E.D. patients are admitted into the hospital attached to the emergency room. The reimbursement for emergency care will go to the CHD, whether or not patients then decide to go to Sutter, or need to be transported elsewhere. Obviously, transfers to the new Curry General Hospital, built to have seventeen (17) inpatient beds, would increase. It is also obvious that the huge increase in the inpatient beds in the new facility is directly related to planned increases in 97415 patient transfers from their (proposed) Brookings E.D.

The concern is that options for more comprehensive and cost effective health care will be ignored once a Curry Health E.D. is opened in 97415. They will have our patient service revenue, and won’t need to pay attention to our health service needs. When the Board Chair states that they don’t want to serve us (97415), they just want our money, we all need to pay attention.

We’ve been told that 97415 can’t have a hospital by the very same public officials who used tax money to implement legislation permitting stand-alone emergency rooms.

Bottom line: the federal government allows Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) to divide inpatient beds between facilities. Curry General is a CAH. The federal regulators also “frown” on stand-alone emergency rooms because they cause increased risks for patients and increased costs to Medicare, Medicaid (OHP), private payers and insurance companies. The largest number of county citizens live in 97415. Yet, we have public officials who are not advocating that 97415 have equitable, accessible health care services.

The SCHCA strongly urges you to raise your voice and join the conversation.

Let your elected officials and public employees know they are supposed to be representing our best interests. Those who want to unnecessarily eliminate trees seem to want to eliminate our options for health care services as well.