Letters to the Editor, Week of May 17, 2023
May 17, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
I helped start the PeaceHealth Palliative Care Program more than 10 years ago. Five years ago, community members raised $2 million to open an outpatient palliative care program with the understanding that PeaceHealth would continue to fund the program when the funding ended. PeaceHealth just announced that it would be laying off all members of the team except for a nurse and social worker. Abandoning the program (which is essentially what is happening with both of the physicians and most of the staff being laid off) is a deep violation of the trust that the donors and community placed in PeaceHealth.
Currently, there are more than 100 patients served by the outpatient/home-based program. Palliative care is team-based care for people with serious illnesses that is focused on allowing people to live their best lives at home. Palliative care improves quality of life and prevents costly hospitalizations. The small staff remaining (a nurse and social worker) cannot begin to meet the needs of this vulnerable group, who often experience symptoms such as severe pain, nausea and shortness of breath. The complex, intensive and time-consuming symptom management that these patients require cannot be adequately met by already stretched primary care providers.
That these cuts to patient care are happening in the context of a new marketing campaign — “We See You” — is particularly disturbing. The patients served by the palliative care program — all of whom are seriously ill — certainly don’t feel seen. I ask PeaceHealth to “see” these vulnerable patients (and dedicated community donors) by reconsidering their decision and re-instituting all or most of the outpatient palliative care program.
C. Bree Johnston, MD MPH
It appears not much can embarrass or shame PeaceHealth for some of its egregious decisions that affect the communities they serve.
Case in point: PeaceHealth recently decided to gut its outpatient palliative care program without input from major donors, patients, medical professionals, other stakeholders or the community. PeaceHealth downsized the program to the point it can no longer properly function — the palliative care team now consists of only one nurse and one social worker.
As I understand it, major donors were promised that if they contributed seed money to get the program started, PeaceHealth would continue the program in perpetuity. Yet, it appears PeaceHealth has reneged on its commitment by slashing the palliative care program. That's typically called a “lie.”
Big donations often come with strings attached. One was that the recipient (PeaceHealth) would honor what they promised.
I won't suggest that donors try to get their money returned, but I do believe that major donors should locate enterprising legal representation to get PeaceHealth to restore its outpatient palliative care program before it is totally demolished. The program is scheduled to functionally cease on May 26.
Further, the paid staff at St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation should be publicly advocating for full restoration of the palliative care services. They solicited donations on the premise of an ongoing palliative care program. Unless the PeaceHealth fundraising and development employees do that, how can they hold their heads high — with integrity, honesty and ethics — and come calling with their tin cups asking for future donations?
Our community, our medical professionals, our patients — and major donors — are being short-changed. PeaceHealth should be ashamed of its corporate culture. Oh, where are the good nuns when we need them?
I want to thank some very special and dedicated health care professionals and staff who have been providing critical and necessary palliative care to members of our community, including myself.
PeaceHealth recently made major cuts to this program that employed specialized services for individuals with complex and challenging care needs who do not otherwise qualify for hospice. The palliative care team includes medical, nursing, pharmaceutical, spiritual and social services.
As a consumer of these services, I am truly saddened and frustrated by PeaceHealth's decision to terminate the care and support provided by this program.
This team has assisted me with invaluable support related to my comfort, medical and emotional needs due to my illness. It is concerning that this local care team will no longer be here when other members of this community and I next need them.
To all of you wonderful health care professionals and staff at palliative care, thank you.
This inglorious ending to a much-needed program, without any community input or consideration, is a disgrace. This is just one more example of our broken health care system.
Thank you for addressing the concerns of the conditions of the Bellingham Jail in Whatcom County (“This time, jail replacement process is sound,” April 28, 2023). Although the suggested solutions and benefits to this new jail proposal have good intentions, unfortunately, some of these propositions are untrue.
The commentary is suggesting that with some changes made to the new jail proposal, the renovated jail will improve the criminal justice system and provide more behavioral health systems. Although some reform may make it seem as if there are more resources, the issues of violence and sexual abuse are one of the factors that make jails so unethical. These issues are hardly addressed, and behavioral and mental services could be better applied to people in need outside of a jail environment.
In the commentary, it is suggested that “local policymakers have worked hard to keep people out of jail and divert them into substance use disorder and mental health treatment and housing.”
This does not provide any reform or solution, as the Bellingham City Council in early April passed an ordinance that makes the public use of controlled substances a misdemeanor. With this put in place, more unhoused people especially, will be temporarily placed in jail, and being there for 30 days maximum with little behavioral health system will not create change, it will just further incriminate them.
Even with the efforts of local policymakers, such as GRACE and LEAD, removing 367 people from the jail system in 2022, there was still an increase in the jail population overall going up continuously from 2016 to present.
The efforts to reform the current jail is a good conversation to start talking about within the community, however, the real issues with the prison system, such as sexual/physical violence and isolation, are the problems that need to be addressed. Redirecting our attention to preventative measures of drug use and mental health help, before jail needs to be an option to further criminalize people, is an extremely important task. Thank you for your thoughts on this subject!
WWU student, Bellingham
I’m writing today to you and Cascadia Daily News because I am discouraged by the actions taken by the Bellingham Police Department, the City of Bellingham, along with Bellingham’s downtown ambassadors when attempting to decrease the rising levels of theft at stores on Meridian Street, specifically, and other stores in the city.
A homeless encampment at 4049 Deemer Road, in a vacant lot behind Home Depot, is believed to be an organized retail theft operation where “trespassers are given lists of items to steal in exchange for drugs.” In response, the Bellingham Police Department paid certain officers overtime to focus on theft cases. Even with the amplified police presence, Lt. Claudia Murphy still was unsure if the presence helped at all with Bellingham’s theft problem.
As it goes for the City of Bellingham, it has hired the security company Risk Solutions Unlimited to patrol downtown Bellingham for a contract of $380,720 with the city for the year 2023; which is an insane amount when you put into perspective how our downtown still looks and is treated after this mass contract has been put into motion. With that being said, our city does have a board of ambassadors who help our high rate of unhoused people here in Bellingham and direct them to support services.
It is somewhat the first step in the correct direction to helping the unhoused population here in Bellingham, but instead of paying for higher police presence, higher security and surveillance, we could use that money to help the unhoused population. We could use that money to direct it toward possibly reshaping, crafting and building some new, as well as different, opportunities to help assist our unhoused population out of the difficult situation they are currently in.
The City of Bellingham and Mayor Seth Fleetwood need to direct their time, thought and money toward not only assisting the unhoused population, but also maintaining communication throughout the community on what we as human beings could do to also help assist each other, rather than surveil, imprison and dehumanize. We have the downtown ambassadors, but we need more. We need less surveillance and less police presence when it comes to attempting to “support” the unhoused population living among us.
As a member of the leadership team of the Multifaith Network for Climate Justice (MNCJ), a group composed of members from local faith/spiritual communities who care about the climate crisis, I write with disappointment and frustration that our local gas utility, Cascade Natural Gas, included the yet-to-be-approved and controversial GTN Xpress fracked gas pipeline expansion as part of their Integrated Resource Plan recently filed with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.
We need to decrease reliance on fracked gas — not expand the capacity of a 60-year-old gas pipeline that runs through the backyards of our neighbors in Spokane. With the GTN Xpress project, TC Energy and Cascade Natural Gas are pursuing a future that goes against climate goals, requires 660 new fracking wells to be drilled on Indigenous land in Northeast British Columbia, and exposes communities in Idaho, Washington and Oregon to increased risks from a more pressurized pipeline.
As people of faith, we are called to advocate for the safety of our neighbors and the care of our common home. We ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to deny the GTN Xpress proposal, and senators Murray and Cantwell to join their Oregon colleagues, the Conference of Western Attorneys General, Gov. Inslee, and 300-plus faith leaders from across the region in asking FERC to deny the project.
Kathy Delbecq and the MNCJ Leadership Team
I have just recently become aware of the DNR proposal to clear-cut a 69-acre Legacy Forest located adjacent to the Middle Fork Nooksack River near Deming. The proposal is currently paused for more review, giving the public more time to comment on this project.
In the March 10 edition of this newspaper, a guest commentary by Rob Lewis provided a detailed description of this current project, which is excellent and worth reading. It can be found online.
The area that DNR plans to auction for timber is known as “Brokedown Palace.” It is an old-growth forest with a lot of mixed trees, many of which are older than 100 years. If it is clear-cut, we will lose erosion control, habitat for wildlife and many years of stored carbon. The “Brokedown Palace” sits high above the Nooksack River and includes steep slopes directly above a recently removed old dam, opening up 16 more miles of river, so endangered salmon can reach their spawning grounds. After clear-cutting, the river will logically be at risk from runoff and/or landslides, which could once again block the salmon.
Each old-growth forest is a gift providing years of “free services” to us and the environment: storage of excess carbon dioxide (the cause of climate change); creating and preserving biodiversity; soil enrichment for new growth; water filtration and oxygenated air. We must protect them!
Humanity is failing to reduce our overall carbon footprint, but saving old-growth forests is a good start.
If we continue with “business as usual” we may end up with irreversible tipping points in weather systems, from which we will not be able to recover. Is this the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren?
Please contact DNR Commissioner of Public Lands with your opinion.
I'm writing in response to the May 10 [CDN print edition] editorial cartoon: “This country has gone zero days without a mass shooting.” I think the artist largely ignores a lot of other zeros we've maintained regarding this issue.
Zero days since a violent person felt vindicated in their right to take out their issues on innocent men, women and children.
Zero days since a politician did anything other than offer thoughts and prayers, push useless legislation and ignore the root cause of cultural violence.
Zero days since Republicans blamed Democrats and Democrats blamed Republicans, conveniently washing their hands of either one's part in any of our shared problems.
Zero days since the general public spouted rhetoric about love, patriotism, kindness or acceptance while continuing to promote and support nothing but a “my way or the highway” mentality. We condone adult bullying, physical violence and loud, hateful mockery of all things we personally don't believe while we have hands over our ears blocking out any opposing thought.
I don't believe in a lot of things other Americans do and some don't believe in what I do, but the one thing we share is that no one wants to die violently in the name of blind rage. If we're going to talk in zeros, can we please have a zero-tolerance policy discussion and unite long enough to condemn all attacks, regardless of who the shooter or victims were? Glorifying brutality against your perceived enemies is just giving permission for someone to glorify it against you. None of us want to die like that.