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County Health Officer Dr. Frank James is retiring

LWVSJ Observer Corps* summary of Board of Health March 2024 meeting. 

County Health Officer Dr. Frank James presented the 2023 annual report and the 2024 work plan. The Covid public health state of emergency ended in 2023, after an extraordinary time when county staff, the business community and residents worked together to achieve one the best records in the nation limiting the impact of covid. James emphasized sacrifices of the hospitality industry, teamwork, and community volunteers.

Coming out of the pandemic there are effective new tools for reducing the impact of respiratory illnesses-covid, flu and RSV-- but as their distribution shifts to the private sector many of the vulnerable face barriers to getting vaccines and treatment.

Other challenges are air quality with the growing threat of wildfire smoke, increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases, and high and growing levels of alcohol abuse in the county.

The Community Health Assessment was a major accomplishment and revealed the challenges faced by the Spanish-speaking community. Local efforts to improve child nutrition and early childhood education were very successful. 

For 2024 the key goal is to develop a plan to address issues highlighted in the CHA including low insurance coverage, inequality, and lack of access to care.  The county should explore wastewater monitoring to track infectious disease and possibly fentanyl use.

Dr. James is retiring and was thanked for his many contributions to community health.

The three public hospital district superintendents briefed the board. Both the Orcas and Lopez superintendents have been in their positions a little over a year. Those two districts focus on keeping their primary care clinics open and accessible. The   Orcas clinic run by Island Health and the Lopez clinic run by the UW; both have improved staffing levels. Lopez passed a levy lid lift stabilizing the PHD finances and offering a chance to increase services. Orcas and Lopez both are looking to reduce the need for off-island trips to access medical services and to help residents coordinate off-island medical care.  

The SJI district has four major programs- supporting the Peace Island Medical center offering primary care and hospital services, providing Emergency Medical Services, running the county’s only assisted living facility, and just now opening the county’s only home health care agency, which is now licensed and testing systems with few clients and providers with plans to op expand to regular service this summer. Looking forward, they plan to expand the assisted living facility and to work with Peace Health to build housing for healthcare workers.

The State Department of Health Regional Medical Director Dr. Herbie Duber explained his role in helping local jurisdictions and tribal health departments access state resources. The Regional Office can help local jurisdictions highlight their challenges and needs at the state level and to coordinate with each other as needed. 

*The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization encourages informed participation in government. The Observer Corps attends and takes notes at government meetings to expand public understanding of public policy and decisions. The notes do not necessarily reflect the views of the League or its members.