It’s been another eventful year in the Methow Valley. You may think you have a pretty good handle on everything that’s happened since January, but we’re here to help refresh your memory — and to again ask you for assistane in determining the valley’s top 10 news stories of the year.
For the past several years, we’ve offered a ballot listing a couple of dozen of the year’s most noteworthy stories, and solicited readers’ input to rank them by their impact. The first ballot for the top stories of 2019 appears in this week’s issue. There are several ways to vote (see the ballot on page A6 for directions) and we hope you will take a few minutes to add your thoughts. The more participation we have, the more broadly representative the results will be as to what the valley’s residents and friends think is important to this community.
We will publish the ballot for the next several weeks (please limit yourself to one — ballot stuffing is discouraged). Results will be included in the Jan. 1, 2020, “Year in Review” issue of the Methow Valley News. We will also be looking at noteworthy business and sports stories, and will include the annual list of births, deaths and letter-to-the-editor writers.
Thanks in advance for your help. It’s always interesting to see how readers prioritize the issues and events that we all followed during the year.
One of the year’s late-breaking stories that will be on the 2019 ballot appeared in last week’s newspaper, and it resonates well beyond the Methow Valley.
Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster — for many years recognized as a “Baby Friendly USA” hospital — announced it will no longer offer obstetrics services beginning in April 2020. The decision was pretty much made for the hospital when Family Health Centers decided to move its obstetrics services to Mid-Valley Hospital in Omak. Earlier, North Valley Hospital in Tonasket discontinued its OB services.
So consider this: In a county that’s about the same size as the state of Connecticut, there will be one hospital dedicated to providing obstetrics care. That’s not just inconvenient. It’s potentially dangerous, especially when long distances and limited resources for special services and emergency care are involved. What’s more, Mid-Valley and Family Health Centers will have to work hard to continuing offering even that much care.
There are multiple sources at work to force medical services providers toward such decisions. It’s challenging, costly and competitive to recruit medical professionals to this part of the world, as it is in most rural areas of America, particularly because they are in demand everywhere. Only a handful of medical providers in Okanogan County are certfied to perform C-sections.
As reporter Marcy Stamper wrote in last week’s paper, “all three hospitals have been struggling with this [OB services] issue for several years. They need to strike a balance between having enough work to keep doctors busy — and keep their C-section skills fresh — but not burn them out with an overwhelming 24/7 on call schedule.”
It used to be that hospitals strove to offer competitive advantages over other nearby facilities, sometimes duplicating offerings or expensive equipment. Cooperation and consolidation were not top of mind.
That’s changed along with the dramatic shifts in the health care industry. Now, survival is the prime driver in rural hospitals’ efforts to seek shared solutions.
Many of us out here in the boondocks share access to a handful of dedicated local family practitioners, whose presence we should appreciate. We can be a long way from emergency treatment — as many of us have experienced — and often need to seek advanced care outside of the county or even beyond eastern Washington. From expectant moms to the senior set, availability of medical care can be a factor in deciding whether to continue living here.
But if you talk to your big-city friends and family members, you’ll likely hear that proximity isn’t always a big advantage. Long waits for even routine visits are common, and getting in to see specialists can take months. Being 3 miles away from a big medical center doesn’t mean much if you can’t get in.
Here in Okanogan County, we should applaud Family Health Centers’ determination to provide the best OB care possible, whatever tough decisions that might require.