It is past time for Whidbey General Hospital to undergo a major upgrade, as the hospital district commissioners pointed out at last week's meeting. They'll likely run something similar to the $50 million bond proposal that failed at the polls in May 2011. A majority of 55.49 percent of voters gave their approval, but it fell short of the required 60 percent majority.
This time around the commissioners are emphasizing a public information campaign, as they should, but they didn't mention where the focus should be. That is the eight North Whidbey precincts that blew the 2011 proposal out of the win column.
Without getting into a detailed precinct analysis, let's just say that South Whidbey and Central Whidbey precincts overwhelmingly supported adding a new wing to the hospital, with up to 80 percent approval in the Langley area. The Oak Harbor area didn't offer support quite so resounding, but the bond would have been approved had the voting stopped there.
The debacle occurred on North Whidbey where support was dismal. Every one of the precincts fell short of 50 percent, let alone 60 percent. The hospital proposal was most “popular” in the Ault precinct with 48 percent and Silver Lake with 45 percent, but the proposal barely managed 30 percent support in Dugualla and Soundview, and fell short of 40 percent in Cornet, Highland and Countryside.
There are good reasons for the lack of support on North Whidbey. Many residents are retired Navy and can use the base hospital, while many others use the Anacortes hospital, which is better equipped than Whidbey General and is closer for many North Whidbey residents. There is also competition from a remodeled Mount Vernon hospital.
In addition, North Whidbey has always been our most tax-resistant geographic area. Those with long memories will recall that two proposals to create an Island County Public Transportation Benefit Area, the precursor of Island Transit, lost due to the North Whidbey negative vote. District commissioners reacted by simply redrawing the map, leaving North Whidbey out of the district. The next proposal succeeded, and the “gerrymandering,” as detractors called it, was ultimately upheld by the state Supreme Court. Once the buses started rolling, North Whidbey wanted back in and was welcomed with open arms.
The hospital district should look into whether carving North Whidbey out of the district would work. Short of that, they're going to have to come up with one heck of a public information campaign.