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Healthy interest in Snoqualmie's new hospital: Board interviews seven would-be commissioners
More people want to be on the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital’s board of commissioners now, than ever before.
Finance professionals, business owners, veterans, and one former Valley nurse among them, seven applicants for King County Public Hospital District’s open Position 3 seat aired their ambitions Thursday night, March 6, in open interviews with the board. That is more interest than commission president Joan Young has ever seen for the organization, which has begun construction of a new campus on Snoqualmie Ridge.
“We want this to be as fair as possible,” said commissioner Dave Speikers.
The order of interviewees was randomly drawn from a hat. Candidates left the room then returned in order, so that none got a chance to preview the questions.
Candidates, Robert Merikle, Emma Heron, Kevin Hauglie, Herschel Backues, Darryl Wright, Sandy Kangas and Ryan Roberts each had the chance to explain their interests in the hospital commission. An eighth, former Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaeffer, applied but was unable to attend Thursday’s interviews.
“Great answers, good candidates,” said Speikers afterward.
“I learned a lot tonight, said board member Gene Pollard. “We would all agree that the biggest impediment to a true democratic system is apathy. What’s great is you guys are here, not apathetic, engaged. Every one of you, whether you win or lose on this little competition, have a lot to offer to the hospital district, and health care in the Valley.”
District bylaws don’t define how the board chooses a replacement. So, after 70 minutes of listening and a short discussion, the four board members agreed to each write down their top three choices, then count the results. The board will discuss the two finalists and vote at their March 20 meeting.
If the board can’t come to an agreement on its new member, the matter rests with the King County Council.
Employed by a biotech company, Merikle touted his work in finance and with non-profits. The Snoqualmie resident is an Irvine, Calif., native, who wants to add to the board while learning from it. A Snoqualmie Parks Board member, Merikle applied because of the big changes coming for the hospital.
“This is your one bite at the apple,” he said. “Five, 10, 25 years down the road, the decisions made now will affect the community. I think this is an exciting time to join, and hopefully make an impact.”
Asked by Pollard what his unique contribution would be, “Definitely, without a doubt, it’s the finance side of things,” Merikle replied. He works to maximize shareholder value.
“With non-profits, success is never measured by how much money you can make,” he added. “I enjoy the strategic, philosophical decisions on how you measure and achieve success.
“My philosophy is that you need some type of disagreement,” Merikle said. “If you’re just sitting there rubber-stamping everything, you’re not having as meaningful a conversation as you need to.”
Heron, a Snoqualmie Ridge resident, threw her hat in the ring to help the elderly, vulnerable and underserved residents of the Valley.
“My goal is to continue to deliver quality health care that respects the dignity of everyone in the community,” she said. “If I am appointed, I will do my due diligence to make sure all work is transparent and good. I am encouraged to learn, listen, think and plan for future work, which I hope will meet success.”
Heron shared her experience on non-profit boards to help fight kidney disease, reduce violence, and advocate for the rights of the elderly.
“Boards are not perfect,” Heron said. “Everyone has their own opinions. The key to making sure everything is in harmony is to listen to one another and to weigh all the possibilities.”
“What’s important to remember is listening to community, what their needs are,” Heron added.
“Assess what’s out there, analyze the risk and involve the community.”
This Fall City resident and former commissioner wants his seat back. Hauglie is seeking position 3 because its former occupant, Pollard, challenged him for re-election and won in an unprecedented commissioner-versus-commissioner election last fall.
Hauglie said he wants to be an active participant, and see the construction of the new hospital completed.
“I always have a posture of being approachable,” he said. “Anybody who has questions can come and get the truth. It may not be what they want to hear, but they’ll get the truth. As public officials and as human beings, we have an obligation to do that.”
Hauglie emphasized his nine years of experience on the board, a time when the hospital’s revenues rose from $300,000 a month to $2.5 million.
As a commissioner, Hauglie said he learned “to be patient, to listen to your executive team, your fellow commissioners.... We control a lot of money—we’ve got a $30 million budget. We’re the second biggest employer in the Valley. We touch a lot of lives. It’s a huge responsibility.”
Asked about his perception of the district, Hauglie called it a fundamental, basic service that the community needs to support and use.
“We have a hospital that has through challenging times made some very difficult decisions,” Hauglie said. As a commissioner, he would keep an open door, continue pushing for the best medical practices, and improve public perceptions. “We have an obligation to continue to move that perception of reality in a positive way.”
Asked why he applied, Backues, a 30-year Valley resident, shared his rocky history with the district.
“I’m coming from a different perspective,” he told the board. “I’ve been attending these meetings for over 20 years. In that period, it seems like there’s always friction. I’d like to smooth that out.”
Backues admitted to his negative feeling for the new hospital in the past, when he called it unnecessary due to Swedish Hospital’s proximity in Issaquah.
“I don’t apologize for my attitude before,” he said. “But I’ve had a change of heart over this. Now, my objectives are to make this hospital work.
“Contracts are signed. Ground’s broken. The hospital is going to be built.”
Backues touted business experience, how he overcomes issues “with cool head and quiet demeanor,” and looks at the big picture.
“I don’t go along to get along but I can be persuaded and I do persuasion myself. I enjoy it.”
As an active district resident, he recalled bringing in detailed concerns before the board, only to be brusquely halted when his three minutes for public comment were up.
“What’s that all about?” asked Backues, who challenged the board to truly listen to constituents’ concerns.
When it comes before the board, it’s ‘Follow the rules and sit down.’ I don’t think that’s necessary,” he added. “So you’ve got to spend an extra 20 minutes? People come here in their excitement and interest in the hospital.”
Wright, a Snoqualmie resident, rattled off a host of qualifications: Master’s degrees in organizational development and public administration, lesser degrees in sports medicine and health sciences, work in private, public and non-profit sectors, military service as a liaison with medical facilities in Iraq, family traditions. He’s already deeply involved, as chairman of the Snoqualmie planning commission, a board member of the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital Foundation, as a Community Emergency Response Team member, and as a Rotarian.
“I have a track record that shows I want to be involved,” he said. “I love giving back to the community.”
Wright said he seeks fiscal sustainability, enhanced community trust and ensured local health and well-being.
He recognized, from the results of last fall’s election, which brought in the newcomer, Dariel Norris, and ousted Hauglie in place of Pollard, “how the residents within our district view the hospital district and what they want to see going froward. I want to honor that.” As a commissioner, he said he would make sure everyone is heard.
He espoused collaboration and partnerships, and would bring college training classes to the hospital campus. Wright said he also wants to partner with the Veterans Administration to offer health programs through the hospital.
“Out of the 39,000 residents in our district, there are 2,750 veterans,” he said.
He also would create a new hospital committee for civic engagement and outreach.
Kangas, of North Bend, would bring her background as a businesswoman and nurse into play on the commission.
Kangas says she has a passion for rural health care.
“I would hope to bring to the board more consciousness than I currently see about quality,” she said.
Kangas believes she would be more involved, and approachable to staff and the community.
“The board wants to be involved in the hospital in a positive way, giving their expertise in a way that enhances the hospital,” she said. “No one’s talking to you.”
Kangas contrasted herself, saying she’s more at home in that setting, and would bring information forward: “I can get the goods.”
Roberts moved to Snoqualmie with his young family. He sees the hospital as part of their future.
“There’s a lot of young families here like us,” he said. They need access to first-class health care.
“Many of us were excited, happy that this new facility is being built,” Roberts said. “It’s going to convert some doubts into a real plus for this Valley.”
A former naval aviator who now works in commercial insurance and risk management, Roberts said he advises hospital clients and understands the industry, with a working knowledge of the Affordable Care Act and how it affects the industry.
“You’re not going to need to bring me up to speed on the business of health care,” he said.
“This district is at a tactical juncture,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity in how we’re going to capitalize on that shiny new building. Right now, we’re capturing 10 percent of the Valley’s health care spend. If we can move that needle by 1 percent, that’s an additional $3 million to the topline.
“You have new participants in the system,” he said. This year and next year, as you have Medicare and Medicaid take-up, you’re going to have a new customer at your front door—people who have never had an insurance policy before, but have a lot of high-cost co-pays…. What’s the board going to do, strategically?”
If selected, commissioners must attend regular monthly board meetings and committee meetings. Commissioners are paid $114 for each day or portion of a day spent in official meetings of the district.
The chosen applicant would run for election in 2015.
• Learn about the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital Commission at www.snoqualmiehospital.org.