We are a loosely structured group of retired physicians who have lived and practiced in Yakima for three and four decades. We have become increasingly concerned about the state of medical care in our community over the past decade.
When we began to work in the Yakima Valley, we had two fully functional hospitals, Providence St. Elizabeth and Yakima Valley Memorial. They, along with primary care and specialty physicians and many other providers, gave exceptional care for a service area stretching from Cle Elum to Goldendale, encompassing what has become a population base of nearly half a million people.
Our community was staffed by neurosurgeons, cardiac and cardiothoracic surgeons, and vascular surgeons. Along with most of the other surgical subspecialties, Yakima had a wide range of medical specialists.
However, in recent years, we have seen a steady erosion of this system. We have lost one hospital. As a result, we no longer have a heart surgery program. We have lost all of our neurosurgeons and thoracic (chest) surgeons. Now, the number of patients coming into the emergency room at Yakima Valley Memorial who must be airlifted or taken by ambulance to hospitals in the Seattle area has risen dramatically. It now takes hours instead of minutes to be able to treat a life-threatening condition or injury.
The cost of transferring a patient to Seattle is enormous. No matter how it is paid, it adds a layer of expense to the system.
We have also developed many gaps in the ranks of internal medicine specialists. Again, this means that, increasingly, people have to travel at their own expense to Seattle or Portland to get needed care with more dollars flowing out of our community.
Loss of a robust medical system in Yakima leads not only to increased mortality, morbidity, major transfer expense, and inconvenience to patients and their families, but it impairs the overall economic and cultural development of our community. The quality of medical care ranks high when businesses, developers, and retirees are choosing a place to locate.
When Memorial Hospital joined with Virginia Mason in 2016, forming Virginia Mason Memorial, it was anticipated that VM would provide resources to allow re-creation of Memorial to a full service referral center. That did not happen. In fact, there was further loss of specialists from Yakima. Our group along with the community at large supported Memorial’s separation from VM last fall. Under local control, we believed that steps would be taken to return Yakima to a full service medical community. Disappointingly, that has not occurred and there is no apparent intention by renamed Yakima Valley Memorial to do so.
Yakima has several important health related institutions, which can help in reconstructing full service to Yakima. Farm Workers Clinic with its extensive network of clinics throughout the Pacific NW, PNWU of Health Sciences with graduating classes of 135 physicians each year, and the currently vacant Regional hospital and clinic now owned by a local investor group, are all important resources. In addition, there is Astria Health, now emerging from bankruptcy, MultiCare, a major hospital system throughout the Northwest and currently involved with Astria and PNWU, and several federally subsidized clinics.
YVM with its many important satellites has strong support in the community. It is clearly the dominant institution and the one we must look to in order to begin the rebuilding process. Memorial must form win-win partnerships with the other entities and find the best fit for all players in an open and transparent manner, remembering that it owes its existence to the generosity and good will of our entire community.