EditorialsMeeting the need

Most of us who own businesses would find it difficult to survive under the expectations placed on a typical hospital — in particular, small rural hospitals.

You’d have to be open 24/7 to handle the problems of whatever “customers” come in, you couldn’t turn them away if they ask for service, and you’d have no idea how much or whether they could pay for what you provide.

Typical businesses are open when they’re open, require immediate payment or proof of ability to pay, and can make seasonal adjustments to hours and personnel levels. Hospitals operate on demand, which may be minimal one day and overwhelming the next, and must be appropriately staffed in either eventuality.

Your customers may visit you regularly. A hospital’s customers, as Three Rivers Hospital Chief Operating Office Melanie Neddo observed in an interview last week, only need it when they need it — and then they need everything it has to offer, right now.

First responders face similar demands. They wait until they’re called, and then they respond immediately, often urgently.

Sometimes it’s the provider that has urgent needs.

Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster has served a large and far-flung hospital district for decades, including the Methow Valley. The nonprofit relies on property taxes to help support its operations.

Like hundreds of other small hospitals, Three Rivers has been battered by marketplace forces — changing reimbursement systems, relentless operating-cost increases, competition for qualified staff, increased patient expectations and the demand for specialization among them. As the hospital has struggled to balance income and expenses, it has had to borrow from Okanogan County and forego needed infrastructure improvements, equipment purchases and modern upgrades.

The hospital district is, for the second time within a year, asking the public’s help to maintain and improve Three Rivers by approving two levy proposals (see story on page A1 for details). The increased taxes aren’t for extravagances. They are for basic equipment and necessary repairs, such as replacing the badly deteriorated roof. Patient beds and diagnostic equipment from the current century would also be on the purchase list.

The Three Rivers administration, staff and board have done about all they can do to maximize the hospital’s efficiency. The cost/benefit equation of further reductions in staff or services doesn’t pencil out. What Three Rivers is asking for is, to be sure, an additional tax burden on the hospital district’s residents. But it’s a reasonable proposal that will quickly yield tangible benefits for the hospital and everyone it serves.

There’s more than the pride of a community having its own hospital at stake. Choice, accessibility, quality of care and operational independence all have real value. If those things are important to you and your family, we urge you to vote “yes” on the hospital district’s two levy proposals. Because when you need it, you need it.

A good turnout

The Twisp River Grange was packed on Monday night for a community to forum to hear from the four candidates for the Okanogan County Commission position representing District 2, which includes the Methow Valley. The candidates — incumbent Ray Campbell and challengers Ashley Thrasher, Andy Hover and Stan Kvistad — answered prepared questions as well as questions from the standing-room-only audience.

The forum was a great opportunity — perhaps the only one for most Methow Valley residents — to hear from and gauge all the candidates in a public setting where they are each answering the same important questions. It’s likely that some in the audience learned things they didn’t know about the candidates, which is part of the point of such gatherings.

It was encouraging to see such interest on a pleasant summer evening when people could have been doing a lot of other things. The turnout and the quality of the questions speak to the importance that valley residents attach to this election.

Two of the four candidates will emerge from the Aug. 2, which will be decided by District 2 voters only. The top two will then face off in November in a countywide vote for the seat. And as one observer noted Monday night, that will be a different election.