Healthcare crisis declared in Kitsap County over costs, access

Jul 13, 2023, 1:08 PM | Updated: 1:09 pm

Emergency Room...

There is a shortage of healthcare workers in Kitsap County even in emergency rooms. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A healthcare crisis has been declared in Kitsap County, but it’s not about a disease or virus.

The County Public Health Board discussed and unanimously approved a resolution this week declaring a “crisis” over high healthcare costs and insufficient access to healthcare services.

“These included lack of healthcare workforce capacity, closures of local health facilities, and overwhelmed emergency rooms,” Diane Meyer, a member of the Kitsap County assessment team and an employee of Johns Hopkins University, told KIRO Newsradio. Meyer is an associate scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a research associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She’s also a registered nurse.

The board said Kitsap County residents face many barriers when seeking healthcare, including high and unpredictable costs, inadequate insurance coverage, and shortages of healthcare providers and services.

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“I’ve been hearing pretty consistently from people in the north Kitsap area about the lack of services and the length of time to get an appointment if you can get an appointment,” said State Senator Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge, who is Kitsap County Commissioner.

According to a Kitsap Public Health District press release, data shows Kitsap County trails state and national averages for access to emergency care, urgent care, primary care and some specialty services, including obstetrical, maternal and mental health care.

It cites poor health outcomes and disproportionately affects people in different racial and ethnic groups. Income and dealing with disabilities are also factors.

Health board members Greg Wheeler, Bremerton’s mayor, and Michael Watson, a practicing family physician, presented the resolution to the full board at its regular July meeting.

“The whole idea behind this is putting down in words the magnitude of this crisis as far as a strained workforce, the costs, and diminishing access to services,” Wheeler said in the district press release, noting that the resolution will provide clarity as the Board works to understand and address complex healthcare issues. “Without goals, we waste time, energy, and money.”

“Our goal is to call attention to the circumstances in the region and commit to finding a plan forward and a way to avoid worsening circumstances in the community,” Watson added in the release. “It will take the entire community.”

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The health district contracted with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security last winter to conduct a comprehensive review of Kitsap’s healthcare system and recommend strategies for improving access for all Kitsap residents.

Health board members said they expect the crisis resolution will help guide actions taken in response to findings from that study, which will be completed in December.

“We do have a health care crisis. We all know it,” said Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson, who chairs the health board, in the press release. “We need to push those resources toward this as deliberately, as accurately, and as thoroughly as we possibly can in order to improve the conditions in this county, period.”

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Healthcare crisis declared in Kitsap County over costs, access