The new member of WhidbeyHealth’s board of commissioners has performed countless surgeries and regularly prescribes medicine, but he doesn’t have a medical degree.
At least not to practice on humans.
Eric Anderson is a longtime and well-known veterinarian in Oak Harbor with deep connections in the community. He is the director and chief of staff of Best Friend’s Veterinary Center on the north end of the city.
He will replace Anne Tarrant, who stepped down from the public hospital district in June to move out of state.
Anderson said he’s aware that being a hospital commissioner is a big commitment in terms of time and brain cells, but he wants to serve the community and be part of an institution that’s so vital to the people who live on the island.
“The biggest thing I can do in the beginning is to keep my mouth shut and eyes open,” he said. “This is going to be a big learning curve for me.”
Ron Wallin, current hospital commissioner, said the commissioners were initially concerned that they wouldn’t be able to find anyone willing to take the seat, especially since he feels South Whidbey Record coverage of the hospital in recent years has been largely negative. The candidate for the District 5 position has to live on North Whidbey.
He was pleasantly surprised, however, when seven candidates threw their hats in the ring. Besides Anderson, Marshall Goldberg, Steve Hucke, Tom Koslocke, Chris Malmkan, Kristy Miller and Robert Stonefield applied for the position, according to the hospital.
The three commissioners interviewed the candidates over two days last week. Wallin said one of the most important concerns for the commissioners was to find someone who can make the commitment of time the position requires and is also willing to do public relations work.
The commissioners, he said, are planning on doing more community outreach, including town hall meetings across the island.
Wallin said all the candidates were “talented and committed,” but the commissioners were especially impressed with Anderson’s ties to the community. Those ties go back to 1912 when his grandparents moved to a Jones Road farm on North Whidbey. His father and uncles grew up on Whidbey and went on to become successful entrepreneurs in Seattle, opening the iconic Elephant Car Wash.
Growing up, Anderson’s family split their time between Whidbey Island and California.
“There’s not a year of my life that I haven’t spent time on Whidbey,” he said.
His uncle was a county commissioner, his son-in-law owns Island Drug and his son runs a real-estate office.
Anderson opened his veterinary practice in 1980 and focused on innovation. He points out that a Clara Barton quote hangs on the wall, which says in part, “I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things have always been done.”
Anderson embraced technology. He noted, for example, that he went to digital radiography in his office before the hospital did. His office went completely digital with records more than eight years ago; Wallin said the hospital is still struggling with the transition.
In fact, Wallin said the veterinarian’s knowledge about technology will make him a valuable member of the board.
WhidbeyHealth CEO Geri Forbes also noted that “Dr. Anderson’s skills complement the existing commissioners while also positioning the board to meet future challenges,” according to a press release. During the interview process last week, Wallin first overviewed the position for the candidates and then they met with Forbes “to learn more about the healthcare system and the role of commissioner,” according to the hospital.
The commissioners interviewed each of the candidates separately. They then discussed the candidates’ qualifications in executive session and returned to the public session, where they unanimously voted to appoint Anderson.
According to Wallin, all the candidates were aware of The Record’s coverage of the public hospital. Many of the stories highlighted a lack of transparency with the public as well as the past administration’s handling of a criminal case involving an administrator.
Anderson said he is aware of issues that have dogged the hospital in the past, but he feels things have changed for the better and that it’s on a path to accomplish “phenomenal things.”
“The days of old are just that: the days of old,” he said.
He points to the current hospital expansion project and the relatively new administration, led by Forbes. He was especially impressed with her.
“She inspired me, frankly,” he said.
Anderson’s appointment runs until the next regular election for hospital commissioners, which will take place in November of 2017. He said he hopes to run for the position next fall, barring unforeseen circumstances.