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Hopes slim for saving Langley Clinic

The search continues for a way to keep the Langley Clinic open past December, but it’s an uphill battle.

“The chances are very small,” Doug Allderdice of Langley, one of the owners of the building, said Thursday. “But we’ll keep looking as long as there’s a slim chance.”

The medical group that has operated the clinic for the past two years wants to close it when the lease on the brown shake building expires at the end of the year.

Primary Care Associates, which has rotated its member physicians and other medical personnel in and out of Langley, has asked Whidbey General Hospital’s commissioners to close the practice permanently and combine services at the hospital’s Freeland clinic eight miles away.

“It’s simply not economically viable,” Dr. Jerald Sanders, an Oak Harbor physician with the group, said in an Aug. 30 letter to Anne Tarrant, president of the hospital board of commissioners.

“It is the strong recommendation of all of the providers, north and south, that the Langley Clinic be closed and we work to maintain one viable clinic in Freeland,” Sanders said in his letter.

Sanders’ group is subsidized by Whidbey General. Hospital commissioners are expected to discuss the matter at their meeting next week in Coupeville.

Medical services have been provided at the Langley Clinic since 1956. Allderdice and Steve Shapiro, owners of the building, are both physicians who provided primary care at the clinic from 1976 through 1988.

They say the building was designed to be a medical clinic, and that they will hold off selling or leasing it until it’s determined that no “plausible prospect” to continue a medical practice can be found.

Asked how long they’ll wait, Allderdice said: “Ultimately, that’s our call.”

Allderdice and Shapiro urged Mayor Paul Samuelson, other city officials and concerned citizens to form a search committee to find a new medical tenant, and to press hospital commissioners to recognize the importance of keeping a medical clinic open in Langley.

A similar effort on the part of the mayor and others helped to bring Primary Care Associates to Langley when the healthcare facility run by Dr. Stan Whittemore in the same building on Second Street closed at the end of October 2008.

Samuelson said he hopes a similar campaign can be mounted this time around.

“We’re hoping there will be an interest in the community, and anticipate there will be,” the mayor said.

“But it will have to happen quickly,” he added.

He said that while the city survived the loss of its pharmacy early last year, and would survive the loss of the clinic, too, the loss would change the character of the community.

“The clinic’s been here for decades, and has been successful in the past,” Samuelson said. “I think everybody wants a clinic. It’s a very important aspect of our city.”

Allderdice said the biggest impact of the clinic’s closure would be on the number of older people in Langley who rely on its services and who may find traveling to Freeland for medical care difficult.

“The senior population of Langley has always been a big part of the clinic’s practice,” he said.

Grethe Cammermeyer of Langley, hospital commissioner for the South End, said the board supports quality healthcare for everyone on South Whidbey, but that costs ultimately become a factor.

She said the overhead of running a practice may discourage a private physician from taking over the clinic, and that the hospital needs to keep an eye on the bottom line.

“Our main concern is to make sure we concentrate on simple healthcare issues for everyone,” Cammermeyer said.

“That’s been our concern from the very beginning,” she added.

She declined to say how she would vote on closure of the clinic, but added: “To have two clinics eight miles apart may become untenable.”

Allderdice said he and Shapiro would advertise for a new medical tenant for the building, and would put off considering other uses “until the community has had ample time to recruit a provider.”

He said that while having the clinic follow the drugstore out of town may not be critical to the community, it comes down to degree and quality of life.

“Loss of the pharmacy made Langley less nice,” he said. “Losing the clinic will make it less nice than that.”

The hospital board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, in Conference Room A at Whidbey General Hospital in Coupeville.

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