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Letters to the Editor, Week of May 24, 2023

Whatcom County Jail, Laws, and PeaceHealth

Editor,

Some readers know my partner Joel and me as Team Nerka; faces of Southeast Alaska salmon trollers. For many local restaurants, I am “the fish lady,” sharing our hook-and-line-caught king and coho salmon for their patrons. Joel grew up on the 43-foot Nerka — on board since he was 2 weeks old. We’ve been running her together since 2006. 

Ours is a sea-to-plate story, told with love. Love is why we choose a beautifully inefficient, quality over quantity, one-fish-at-a-time livelihood. Alaska’s trollers are committed stewards, with a long record of advocating for salmon and their habitat. With meticulous federal and state management, we’re proud to participate in one of the world’s most tightly regulated commercial fisheries.

I am heartsick for the coastal communities whose residents would not survive losing this fishery. Above all, I am heartsick for the imperiled southern resident orcas that need the aid of collaborative partnerships. They will not receive that aid as a result of the Wild Fish Conservancy’s (WFC) lawsuit, which pits potential advocates against each other.

In recent decades, our fleet has cut its king harvest by more than half in an effort to help PNW salmon stocks. Data has shown these cuts are not enough to restore those runs. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has rejected the WFC’s claim that Alaska’s troll fishery is contributing to the decline of either chinook or orca populations. Instead, NMFS has concluded that habitat loss and dams are preventing PNW salmon stocks from recovering, and that human-caused pollution and habitat disturbances are the primary factors imperiling the southern residents. 

I choose to believe my PNW neighbors are vested in the well-being of all beings: salmon, orcas and people like Team Nerka and our fleetmates. My identity as a fisherman is inextricably linked to my conservation values; I don’t have to choose one at the expense of the other. None of us do.

Tele Aadsen

Bow


Editor,

PeaceHealth management in Vancouver [Clark County] is well-known for making decisions that run counter to the common good.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, a St. Joseph Hospital emergency department physician voiced concerns about inadequate personal protective equipment and the need for better triaging of ER patients to avoid infections. What did PeaceHealth do? They fired him.

PeaceHealth’s decision to cut outpatient palliative care services (CDN, May 16, 2023)  is the latest example that they are tone-deaf to the communities they serve. They claim cuts are necessary because of lost revenue during the pandemic. It is true that hospital revenues throughout the U.S. decreased. 

However, relief of suffering for seriously ill patients should be PeaceHealth’s North Star. Slashing the outpatient palliative care program illustrates the lack of insight into the heart and soul of our community. It was community members who provided generous and vital seed money to launch the program, which is considered essential to quality healthcare.

Palliative programs show outcome improvements across the spectrum — better patient experience scores, lower 30-day readmission rates, fewer ER visits, shorter ICU stays, decreased hospital mortality and less cost per Medicare beneficiary. These measures are all part of how hospitals get ranked and paid. On that basis alone, how can PeaceHealth justify its decision?

Hospital-based and community-based palliative care avoids unnecessary costs. These avoided costs may not show up immediately, but it is penny-wise and pound-foolish for PeaceHealth to deny that the best organizations offer palliative care.

Obvious from legally mandated, publicly available 990 forms, the increased compensation that hospital executives received during the pandemic could cover the cost to maintain this vital service to the sick and suffering who have nowhere else to turn.

I suggest that locally, PeaceHealth invite the community to an open forum in which patients, donors, caregivers, and all stakeholders be given the opportunity to express their concerns and get answers. That would be the honorable way to address the discontent that PeaceHealth’s actions created. 

Micki Jackson

Bellingham


Editor,

When I moved to Bellingham a year ago, one of the many attractions was PeaceHealth’s outpatient palliative care program.

I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which is an unpredictable disease that manifests differently in each person. Believing there would be access to palliative care when I will need it, gave me peace of mind.

I cope with significant daily chronic pain due to MS, which is typical for the disease. Like others with chronic conditions, we do our homework about what medical services are available before considering a move to a new community. We arm ourselves with that valuable information, concluding that patient-centric, specialized care for people with serious illnesses would not be arbitrarily cut — especially when there is only one hospital in the county.

I have questions: What will PeaceHealth do to keep the promise it made when it started the palliative care program? How have stakeholders (especially those who live with chronic pain) been engaged as partners in seeking solutions to restore — and sustain — this program?

Knowing that this important program will likely not be accessible to me when I need it makes me feel less safe and secure. PeaceHealth’s shortsighted decision certainly affects the sense of safety and security of many others in my new community, too.

Van Roberts

Bellingham


Editor,

Thanks for the great article showing the impacts and the betrayal of community donors in the closure of the palliative care program.

I can recall when this county had two competing hospitals, the old St. Luke’s and St. Joe’s. In closing St. Luke’s, PeaceHealth applied to become a monopoly here and was granted its wish based on promises it made to the state and the local community. Five years and all bets were off, and they have behaved like a business monopoly since.

Jean Waight

Bellingham


Editor,

I have been a cancer patient at the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center since the summer of 2021, when I was diagnosed with stage three esophageal gastric junction cancer. With the exception of surgery at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, I have received all of my treatment in Bellingham including radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. I am extremely grateful for the extraordinary care I have experienced.

But besides medical treatment, I’ve discovered there is another side to cancer that is equally important: a patient’s emotional and mental health. Without support in this area, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a patient to successfully manage the side effects of various medical interventions. 

Currently, I attend a weekly women’s support group which has been a tremendous source of comfort. In addition, I’ve been referred by my medical oncologist to the outpatient palliative care program. I’ve met with Dr. Angela Caffrey twice, and both times her compassionate and insightful questions helped me and family members develop the strategies and hope we needed to get through some of the most difficult parts of my treatment plan.

Therefore, I was devastated to recently learn the palliative care program at PeaceHealth St. Joseph has been reduced to an extreme degree and will now only be available to patients admitted to the hospital. My end-of-life goal is to die in my home with the support of palliative and hospice care if possible. Not having continued access to outpatient palliative care could significantly impact this goal and does not support PeaceHealth’s Statement of Values.

It is my opinion that palliative care can actually reduce costs by addressing a patient’s spiritual and emotional needs in addition to medical ones. I sincerely hope a process will be instituted to reconsider this cost-driven decision and that the full range of palliative care services will be reinstated. 

Linda Morrow

Bellingham


Editor,

In response to “Lawmakers in Whatcom County support new drug law” (CDN, May 17, 2023): 

The passing of this bill will hopefully help many Washingtonians with the $63 million in funding that covers various amounts of services. The support from multiple Whatcom County lawmakers of the new law criminalizing drug use and possession is a grave mistake that continues to practice complacency in our democracy.

The passing of this bill will continue a long legacy of discrimination and harassment in our criminal justice system. Although Whatcom County lawmakers pointed out various issues in the bill that they disagree on, they continued to use their power, vote and voice to pass a bill that will exploit substance users and will intervene only after interacting with the criminal justice system, rather than giving funds directly to resources that could help the problem without the use of a system that seeks to harm and punish, instead of rehabilitate and heal. 

This complacency ignores the power and purpose of lawmakers to not acknowledge and merely work within a system that is broken but to use their power, knowledge, and networking to reinvent a system built on humanizing people and putting forth efforts to address the ills of our state and communities. 

Da’Mea Birdsong

Lynden


Editor,

Thanks for the excellent editorial last week (CDN, May 17, 2023) about the importance of local news. I share Ron Judd’s view that, as of a few years ago, Whatcom County was a news desert. With the appearance of Salish Current, whose board I am proud to serve on, and then Cascadia Daily News, the situation now is much more promising. 

Both news services, as well as other local sources, have a way to go before all our local news needs are met, but progress over the past few years has been very encouraging.

If you haven’t read Salish Current, which is free to all users, please check it out.

Eric Hirst

Bellingham


Editor,

Thank you for your continuing coverage of plans for the new Whatcom County Jail. 

As Ralph Schwartz reported in March, surveys in the past year show that a lion’s share of Whatcom County Jail inmates are without stable housing, have a serious mental illness or are dealing with substance abuse. This cycle of untreated problems funnels people into the criminal system. It’s expensive and ineffective. 

People mention GRACE, LEAD and other existing diversion programs that will keep people out of the new jail. GRACE and LEAD do important work — a recent draft of the Whatcom County Justice Board Needs Assessment reports that participants in these programs were booked in jails about 88% less over 24 months. However, without extra funding and capacity, I doubt these programs could help as many people as a new, expanded jail could hold unnecessarily. 

Some recent decisions will needlessly put more people in jails. For example, the Whatcom County Council just denied $1 million in funding for the Lighthouse Mission due to religious discrimination against its employees. I understand the council’s decision. However, it could exacerbate our lack of shelter options. This should be a wake-up call that our jail crowding problem is, in part, a shelter and housing problem.

We are seemingly on track to build a bigger jail with up to 700 beds. Our community should rally around resources that would make a 700-bed jail seem laughably big. To achieve this goal, we should aggressively fund diversion programs, low-barrier shelters, affordable housing, robust crisis care and accessible long-term mental health services. 

Whatcom County is treating the symptoms rather than the cause. I believe we can think further ahead to find sustainable solutions to these complex problems. I also believe county officials can act on their promises to de-prioritize incarceration.

Haven Johansen

Bellingham


Editor,

My name is Selma, and I am a resident of Bellingham’s York neighborhood. I am writing because I am disappointed by the Daily’s overly complimentary stance on Whatcom County’s efforts to build a new jail. While I appreciate that articles are being published concerning social programming in response to harm, there are blatant fallacies in the “Beyond Bars” series that create false narratives about an issue that is already the topic of controversy.

The article “Beyond Bars: Part IV” speaks of “officials who are planning a new jail for Whatcom County with an eye to reducing incarceration.” This statement is an oxymoron. Building a new, larger jail on a site intentionally picked in a rural area that can be continuously expanded upon, could and will never lead to reduced rates of incarceration. 

If the officials mentioned in this article had any interest in reducing incarceration, they would refuse the notion of building an ever-expansive jail at the starting cost of $110 million. Part III of the “Beyond Bars” series boasts that “Bellingham spent about $15 million on housing alone in 2021.” It cannot be said that state and county officials support a reduction of incarceration while they spend more than seven times the amount spent on addressing one out of three of “the worst social ills,” on a prison to incarcerate nonviolent offenders struggling with said social ills. I encourage the Daily’s writing staff to be more critical of the county and to not blindly accept and promote their easily refutable propaganda.  

Selma Powers

Bellingham


Editor,

Your article about low-income senior housing left out one important detail: federal agency corruption. According to the National Housing Law Project, many federally subsidized complexes have been illegally converted to market-rate apartments nationwide. In 2017, Diamond Management gave its tenants at Bay View Plaza in Blaine notice to find somewhere else to live. The tenants association, represented by Northwest Justice (Legal Aid of Washington) and National Housing Law Project sued Diamond/USDA in U.S. District Court.

In 2019, we reached a settlement whereby our apartment complex was returned to the USDA Rural Development program. (This is the rural equivalent to HUD.) In 2020, the Washington Legislature allocated $10 million to preserve seven at-risk USDA buildings. 

Had Northwest Justice not been monitoring Diamond, 32 seniors would have been homeless.

Jay Taber

Blaine


Editor,

PeaceHealth Medical Group recently eliminated the Allergy and Immunology Clinic to save money.

Apparently, it’s more cost-effective to direct patients to the cold/allergy aisle at Fred Meyer than it is to fund staff dedicated to treating people with chronic and/or life-threatening conditions. While over-the-counter medications can correct the casual flareup, they do nothing to alleviate symptoms of chronic and severe allergies, anaphylaxis, asthma, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and MS, or immunodeficiency disorders.

Perhaps the word “allergy” — so prominent in the clinic’s name — fooled decision-makers into thinking physicians and supporting staff only tended to runny noses, itchy eyes and sneezing. Perhaps if the term “immunology” preceded “allergy” or, at the very least, had been printed in bold somewhere, the clinic’s worth would not be in question. Perhaps a more thorough investigation of the department’s services would have confirmed that this group is not expendable.

This is what Bellingham and environs can reasonably expect after the clinic closes: Bellingham Asthma, Allergy, & Immunology Clinic (the only other game in town) will be inundated with adrift PeaceHealth immunology and allergy patients. Anyone hoping to continue regular intervention to breathe, sleep or function with any level of ease will be stuck in the endemic healthcare access logjam. Meanwhile, physicians and nurses will exhaust themselves trying to balance quality care with skyrocketing patient demand. In the end, the ER — the last place you want to be when you’re sick — will see an influx of people suffering, if not dying, for lack of available care.

It is irresponsible to cut an essential health care program, regardless of overall budgetary concerns. For the sake of the community that PeaceHealth serves, it would be wise to reverse this directive and find a better solution.

Kathy Greenberg

Bellingham


Editor,

This is in response to your recent article, “9 sit in Whatcom County Jail without lawyers.”

I agree that the unrepresented defendants’ rights to counsel have been violated, and also agree with the solution that the nine defendants sitting in jail right now should rightfully be released. 

The legal system in Whatcom County, Washington state and the U.S. all define that all defendants have the right to counsel, even if they cannot afford to purchase their own representation. The nine individuals sitting in their jail cells at this moment, who are waiting for their representation, have all been violated by the state. Why is waiting an option, how is waiting acceptable?

Whatcom County is displaying negligence by acknowledging the issue, but not actively repatriating those who are being denied their rights. These nine individuals need to be released immediately from their jail cells. I also believe this situation illuminates the unsustainability of the state’s current legal system, given that this scenario is even possible. These nine individuals who are unrightfully waiting, for who knows how long, in jail, are actively harmed because of the failure and unsustainability of our legal system. 

Releasing these individuals is creative and can set a standard in the future. Going forward, Whatcom County needs to continue developing and implementing preventative programs to prevent these individuals from entering the legal system in the first place. The system has been negligent, failed them as humans and has harmed them significantly. These nine individuals need to be released and compensated for the state’s negligence. I imagine a day where no one is left behind like this.

Laraya Johnson

Bellingham

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