Hospital aims to recruit more providers, improve access

The number of unfilled positions at WhidbeyHealth is affecting patients’ access to care, which is causing some to go off island, CEO Ron Telles said at a board meeting Monday.

In response, the hospital is looking to revamp its provider recruitment process.

Recently hired Chief Operating Officer Colleen Clark outlined at the meeting potential new methods and policies to attract new providers to the Whidbey Island Public Hospital District.

Telles said preliminary community survey results indicated a major reason that residents go elsewhere for health care is lack of access. There are also positions being added to account for WhidbeyHealth’s shift to outpatient care, Clark said.

The plan involves a new vetting process to gauge actual interest in coming to Whidbey, working with a real estate agent for those visiting, offering student loan benefits as a standard and discussing closing costs for some applicants, Clark said.

There are about 13 open positions currently for doctors, physician assistants and midwives and advanced practitioner nurses.

Recruitment for nurses would be a separate process, Clark said.

The doctor shortage is something being felt nationwide, and it’s expected to worsen. A study released by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the U.S. will have a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by the year 2032. The country’s aging population is largely driving up demand, the report states.

Clark said it’s important to be competitive in the recruitment process because many of the applicants might have several other offers on the table.

Bringing more doctors to the island will ideally keep residents from seeking services elsewhere. The low volume at WhidbeyHealth facilities is heavily contributing to the district’s financial struggles. Fewer patients is translating into lower revenue, and June’s financial reports continued the trend of a “dismal” number of patient days, Controller Jennifer Reed said at Monday’s meeting.

Some of the numbers are starting to creep back up, she said, but the district still reported a $128,000 loss for the month. At the end of June, there were eight days of cash on hand.

In recruiting people in leadership roles, Telles said he’s also looking for a “culture change” at the district. He has been taking recommendations from the community and employees on how to implement these kinds of changes. Commissioners are also in the process of creating a new strategic plan and will soon start hosting town hall meetings on different areas of the island to get feedback and input from the public.

“We are listening and responding,” Telles said.

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