Port Angeles, WA - The Clallam County Quality Care Coalition (CCQCC) recently won an "open government" award in recognition of the group's fight to open the books on the operation of the Olympic Medical Center (OMC), which runs the only full-service hospital on the Olympic Peninsula.
Frank Garrad, a founder of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, presented the award to Dr. William Kildall and Pat Slaten, leaders of the CCQCC during a ceremony in front of the hospital Oct. 17.
Garrad, former publisher of the Port Townsend Leader, a daily newspaper, told the crowd "It is really impressive that an effort like this one could be so successful" in persuading the OMC to be more transparent in how it manages public funds.
The award praises the CCQCC for its "outstanding effort and key contribution in promoting and defending the people's right to know in the conduct of the people's business."
Kildall told the People's World that OMC officials bowed to the demands of the CCQCC that financial records be open for public scrutiny including contracts with private vendors. OMC recently announced that a "Public Records Officer" would release those records. But in a more recent news release, the OMC Board promised, instead, that an "administrative director" would make the records available.
Port Angeles Memorial Hospital is a publicly owned hospital built on land set aside before the town was even established by President Abraham Lincoln. The hospital opened in 1951, partly the result of a grassroots campaign spearheaded by Vivian Gaboury. She mobilized the labor movement and community organizations on the North Olympic Peninsula urging that it be built. Gaboury was drawn into political activism by Edna Coventon, a leader of the Puget Sound Cooperative Colony, a utopian socialist movement credited with the founding of Port Angeles.
Until the hospital opened, loggers, millworkers, and other accident victims were untreated and sometimes died from injuries they suffered.
"We're now getting the actual vouchers list which names the organizations and the vendors they (the OMC) is dealing with and the amount," Kildall added. "We're analyzing the information on a quarterly basis to see where the money is flowing. Just like any other government agency, these expenditures should be transparent and accountable."
Kildall has led the movement in Washington State for a "single-payer" health care system twice filling to capacity the Sequim High School auditorium to demand quality, comprehensive national health care.
"Our basic health care needs are being held hostage by the giant pharma corporations, by the health insurance monopolies," Kildall said.
CCQCC supported the Service Employees International Union 1199 NW last spring in their struggle to win a fair contract. OMC refused to bargain with the workers and obtained a court order to block a strike. But the court order also stipulated that OMC and the union submit to binding arbitration. The union agreed but OMC management refused. Under mounting pressure including mass rallies and picketlines and a sharply-worded letter by State Rep. Kevin Van de Wege, OMC finally agreed to settle the dispute without going into binding arbitration. The workers won a substantial victory.
Kildall pointed out that private hospitals routinely hide billions of dollars they hand over to the pharmaceutical corporations and insurance companies. "Now increasingly we see the same behavior from public hospitals," he added.
Garred and members of the CCQCC went into the hospital to attend the scheduled meeting of the OMC Board of Directors, all seven of them elected by Clallam County voters and accountable to them. Garrad was on the list to speak during the public comment period. Yet when Garrad rose to speak, OMC Board President, John Miles, interrupted him, telling him his comments were not welcome. Garrad stepped forward and told the Board his intention was to thank OMC for announcing its plan to make all its records public. He returned to the speakers lectern and delivered a much-abbreviated speech.
Miles arrogant treatment of the founder of the Coalition for Open Government, is "disrespectful and unbecoming for an elected public official," Kildall declared.