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Snoqualmie Hospital race Q&A: Challenger Gene Pollard takes aim at new hospital, management

Gene Pollard - Courtesy photo
Gene Pollard
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Gene Pollard and Karyn Denton, the two candidates running for a seat on King County Hospital District No. 4’s board of commissioners, have very different views of the district.

Pollard, the challenger, is a Snoqualmie resident and strong critic of the hospital administration. He is opposed to the construction of a new District 4 facility in a changed Eastside health care environment, and says the district doesn’t deserve its “Critical Access” designation. Pollard perceives waste and a lack of transparency in the district, and is running to make changes.

What are your background and qualifications?

I have lived with my family in the Johnson Heights area of Snoqualmie since 1980. I am a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer (Berlin and Vietnam), English teacher and tutor, salary analyst, civil rights investigator, and administrative assistant in local government.

I have attended almost all hospital board meetings over the past five years, and I have serious concerns about the administration and board. I feel the hospital has lost its way. Through having my mother stay with us as she died of Alzheimer’s Disease, I became knowledgeable about health care resources locally and around Puget Sound, and I understand people’s concerns about accessible, affordable and high-quality health care.

I hold a B.A. degree in social sciences and humanities and a master’s degree in history from the University of California at Riverside. I also have a master’s degree in urban studies from Occidental College and have completed extensive graduate work at Western Washington University in Education. I served on the Snoqualmie Valley School Board, and the Seattle-King County Advisory Commission on Aging. I’m a former Rotary Club president, was a District Executive at Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and am a current member of the Sno-Valley Senior Center in Carnation.

I have a 31-year military record, beginning as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps and retiring as a Navy Commander in Public Affairs. I served in Korea as a combat photographer.

How can the hospital stay viable with Eastside competition?

Snoqualmie Valley Hospital should focus on cooperating with other hospitals, not competing with them…. Actually, SVH has never competed successfully with other hospitals, even prior to the new facilities nearby. Snoqualmie Valley Hospital has approached bankruptcy twice and closed its doors for extended periods. More recently, it has opened clinics and closed them at a waste of tax dollars. It has a long history of failures, including the scheme for a multi-million dollar development at Interstate 90 and Snoqualmie Parkway. This was rejected by King County but not before the hospital wasted vast funds.

Although SVH is certified for 28 inpatient beds, the daily occupancy rate has averaged about a tenth of capacity. No hospital can remain viable with that kind of record. The latest gimmick was to change SVH into a rehabilitation facility, a type of skilled nursing facility. This is unfortunate, because rehabilitation needs in the community were already being met by the Mount Si Transitional Health Center in North Bend, with which SVH is now unfairly competing.

Does the community need a new hospital?

The clear answer is NO! The administration and the ill-advised board seem to have an “edifice complex.” They think a new building with the same number of beds and the same management will solve their problems. This is ridiculous, when the first new, state-of-the-art medical center in 25 years in the Puget Sound region is only a 10-minute drive away.

I supported building the current hospital, and bringing it back to life after it went belly-up twice. I publicly testified against building a new hospital in Issaquah, because Snoqualmie Valley Hospital was severely underutilized.

Swedish Medical Center in Issaquah is less than nine miles from the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital site at Snoqualmie Parkway and Southeast 99th. It is difficult for a person in any major U.S. city to get to a hospital within 10 minutes. The access to Swedish is probably the best of any hospital in the region.

How will you balance the hospital’s needs with tax frustration?

Property owners in Snoqualmie Valley should look at their tax bills. They are already paying for the hospital levy that brought SVH back from the dead. No new indebtedness should be incurred until that levy is fully paid off.

If the voters decided in 2007 there was no need for a new hospital, rejecting the new hospital levy by 69 percent, the need is even less today with all the new facilities in the area.

What can the hospital do better?

The almost immediate appointment of resigned commissioner Fritz Ribary to a plush job was unethical. (The hospital) is clearly using public funds to promote a new hospital which the public has clearly demonstrated by vote that it does not want. The continued employment of State Representative Jay Rodne as general counsel is another example of waste and raises serious ethical issues…. Even if this can skirt the law, it is unethical and gives the appearance, at least, of a conflict of interest.

What are your goals as a hospital commissioner?

Tell the truth at all times. Record all meetings and make tapes available to the public under the Open Public Records Act. Get away from the “good ol’ boy system” in picking employees and consultants… Start asserting board authority over the administration. Examine whether the present administration should stay or go… Use local city government meetings as models for transparency, encouraging participation in government, and courtesy to members of the public… In summary, stop the gimmicks that have made Hospital District No. 4 a disgrace to good government. Accept accountability.

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