FILE — The Yakima Herald-Republic building is seen Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, at 114 N. Fourth St. in Yakima, Wash.

Two years ago, Astria Health operated three hospitals and a network of clinics across Yakima County.

Then, in May 2019, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. When it suddenly closed Astria Regional Medical Center in January 2020, it left Yakima with one hospital — Virginia Mason Memorial, now Yakima Valley Memorial. In the months that followed, Astria closed and consolidated clinics as it sought to emerge from Chapter 11.

To evaluate health care access in the Yakima Valley, it makes sense to start with Astria Health.

Microsoft selected Yakima County last fall as one of four communities in the United States for a pilot program to preserve local newsrooms. Microsoft provides training, technology, legal and financial support; the Yakima Herald-Republic, El Sol de Yakima and Radio KDNA decide what to report and how to report it.

We’ve outlined four projects unfolding throughout 2021 and 2022. Each will incorporate audio, video and data visualization.

As we develop those pieces, we’ll add them to our first project — an investigation of health care access in the Yakima Valley, which starts with a look at what’s next for Astria Health.

Among the additional questions we intend to explore:

  • Who goes without health care in the Yakima Valley and why?
  • What are the social and economic costs of inadequate health care access in the Valley?
  • Can clinics and community health centers provide enough reach to meet community health care needs?

Health care access will be followed with in the second quarter by an expansion of The Vanished, our series on murdered and missing Indigenous people. In the third quarter, we’ll begin a project on gangs and kids in the Yakima Valley, closing the year with a look at economic opportunity in the Lower Valley.

If you have ideas for stories on any of these subjects, reach out to the journalists at the Yakima Herald-Republic, El Sol de Yakima and Radio KDNA. Sharing your voices and experiences will make this project stronger.

And that’s the whole point — building a healthier, safer and stronger community.