It’s been a good year for sustainable health care access in the Methow Valley.
Family Health Centers took over Methow Valley Family Practice in Twisp earlier this year, and also opened a dental clinic in Twisp. Last week, it was announced that Confluence Health of Wenatchee will partner with the Country Clinic in Winthrop.
The Twisp and Winthrop clinics were owned by local doctors — Dr. Joe Jensen and Dr. Ann Diamond — who each concluded that the survival of their independent offices would be problematic in the current health care arena. The concern was that when the valley’s doctors retired, no one would replace them and the clinics would be in jeopardy.
However you might feel about larger “outside” organizations coming in to take over smaller local clinics, the actions by Family Health Centers and Confluence Health make it much more likely that the Methow will have consistent, high-quality primary health care available — a difficult challenge in rural areas. (The valley also is fortunate to have other independent practitioners in the health care and personal wellness fields, as well as the world-class Aero Methow Rescue Service.)
Family Health Centers and Confluence Health have each made it clear that they will keep existing employees on board, and will be responsible for attracting physicians to keep the clinics fully staffed. Dr. Allison Fitzgerald was hired to take over the Twisp clinic. Diamond will continue to oversee the Winthrop clinic.
In each case, the larger organizations have affiliations with other health care providers — some of them highly specialized — in the region and in the Seattle area that will be more advantageous to valley residents in the future.
There has been some talk of establishing an emergency care center in the valley — which would be wonderful, but may be beyond the Methow’s ability to support given our small population spread over such a wide area.
Family Health Centers and Confluence Health clearly see opportunity here — they wouldn’t make the investments otherwise — and there certainly is need. Our prognosis for a healthy community continues to improve.
Law and order
It hasn’t been as good a year for the Winthrop Marshal’s Office. After beginning 2015 fully staffed, the town’s police department saw all of its officers depart for one reason or another during the year. That’s disconcerting, even considering that it’s not easy for small, rural towns to attract and keep good police officers.
There’s no evidence of scandal or malfeasance behind the departures, but every officer who left this year made some reference to what they saw as a dysfunctional situation. Former deputy Mark Harreus publicly raised questions about how the department was administered. Former Marshal Rikki Schwab said that the town council interfered too much with her oversight and operation of the department. Former deputy Ken Bajema, Winthrop’s longest-tenured officer, cited what the called “micro-management” of his budget during his time as acting marshal when he recently resigned. And Bajema said that the recent theft of marijuana at a grow site in Winthrop could be attributed to a lack of officers patrolling the town.
At last week’s council meeting, Winthrop businessman Bart Bradshaw addressed the council with his concerns about turnover in the marshal’s office. “I don’t know if you need a little self-examination,” Bradshaw said. “This is a definite pattern. This is something you need to stop.”
It’s not a simple situation with simple answers. But with two police officer positions to be filled, the town has the opportunity for a fresh start under new leadership in the marshal’s office. It seems reasonable to prioritize hiring a marshal, and then letting the marshal be involved in hiring his or her deputy. A department head needs to have some say in important hires if the relationship is to have the best chance for success.
A strong leader is going to want reasonable latitude to run the department as they see fit. Working out the balance between the council’s necessary interest and oversight, and the next marshal’s need for appropriate authority, will be the town’s challenge.
— Don Nelson