The Columbia County Public Hospital District operates two clinics, a hospital, nursing home, emergency room and physical therapy facility. Facilities include the Waitsburg Clinic.
The district relies on tax revenue, including special levies, for part of its operation. Another source of revenue is payment for services, including nursing home care, which in many cases is paid through Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
As is the case with most rural hospitals, the district struggles to remain solvent while maintaining good patient care.
In 2010 the board found itself facing an angry group of employees and members of the public for alleged unfair firings. The board hired a consultant to help staff, administration and board communicate and function more effectively.
Three candidates are facing off in the primary election for a seat on the distrit's board:
Columbia County Public Hospital District Board incumbent Blaine Bickelhaupt has served on the board since 2005, and he says experience is one reason to reelect him.
"It's not something you can walk in and pick up real quick. It's a long-time commitment. It takes time to understand the system, which is changing daily," Bickelhaupt said.
The hospital is the backbone of the community and "I hope it is here for future residents," he said.
"When I first started on the hospital board it was something like $2 million in the hole. In the past couple of years we've been in the black. We've come a long way since I've been on the board," Bickelhaupt said.
The hospital budget is always a high priority, and will continue to be so, with cuts in state and federal revenue, he said.
"The challenge is to be proactive and planning for the future."
Like Bickelhaupt, challenger Garry Snyder owns a real estate firm in Dayton, Christy's Realty. His experience as the successful owner and operator of large and small businesses is good preparation for serving on the hospital board, Snyder said.
"I've been very successful in my life, and I'm not very old," Snyder said. He is 54.
"The hospital is our largest employer and I want to see them stay around," Snyder said.
Snyder believes the hospital's employees should be taken care of. "The hospital is just full of very, very talented people, and we need to have a voice for them, and we need to make sure the hospital stays solvent.
"I just want to be active in the community and think it's a good opportunity to do that," he said.
Retired nurse Colleen Sproul said she feels her background in the medical field will be an asset to the hospital board.
"I thought it could be helpful to have someone on the board with first-hand knowledge of the clinic and someone who has worked in a hospital, clinic and been an assistant director of nursing of a nursing home," Sproul said.
Since retiring, Sproul keeps books for her husband's construction business.
"The number one priority of any hospital is patient care, and I don't understand the practice of firing someone who has had an excellent record, and then hiring someone who has little experience," she said.
Sproul also questions whether the new computer system and outsourcing of billing has actually saved the hospital money. The outsourcing resulted in fewer billing department employees, she said.
"You can't complain and not do something, so it's time to try to do something. Hopefully if I get elected I can help make a positive change. I can provide more communication with the community," Sproul said.
Carrie Chicken can be reached at email@example.com or 522-5289.