Military may help in war on Kitsap health care crisis

Kitsap County is going to get help from the military in its war against its healthcare crisis.

The Kitsap Public Health District is drafting a letter to send to the Pentagon asking it to reopen some of its healthcare facilities that it shut down in 2013 to cut costs.

At the time the military hoped Kitsap’s private sector could handle the military patients. But the private sector is now “overstressed and underserved,” Dr. Gib Morrow of the KPHD said at its meeting May 8. “The private sector needs help from the military. It’s a significant national security risk.”

Morrow said the military makes up about 25% of the population in Kitsap. With the military using private sector facilities, that means regular citizens are being pushed out from being served.

The health district officer is asking for an about-face. He said military facilities are underutilized. If places like the Navy hospital are revived that would take a tremendous load off the private sector.

In turn, Morrow said the county could help those military health workers transition into the private sector once their service ends.

At the end of his presentation, there was quite a bit of discussion about the need for OB care. A military representative said St. Michael Medical Center officials had said it could keep taking care of military patients in that area.

“St. Michael cannot keep up,” KPHD board member and Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler said. Morrow added St. Michael might be able to handle delivering babies, but patients are falling short getting pre- and post-natal care. “Only half get adequate care.”

County Commissioner and board member Christine Rolfes said she’s surprised to hear St. Michael can handle the OB patients because there has been a problem there for years.

Board member Stephen Kutz said because the county lacks health care workers many people go out of county for services. He said military patients are “displacing our regular folks. We don’t have adequate OB doctors to take care of our population,” he said, adding if the military brings OB back it can take care of its own.

Food safety

A food safety rating system for the county also was introduced at the meeting.

Dayna Katula, Food and Living Environment program manager, said the system would be used for restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, food trucks, farmers markets and more. The goal is to reduce food-borne illnesses, of which there are about 100 a year in the county, “which is unacceptable because it’s avoidable.”

Kitsap started looking into such a program six years ago, but decided to wait for others to do it and then learn from their mistakes. Because residents wanted information inspection reports have been posted online but they are legally binding so technical in nature. They are cumbersome and not in plain language, Katula added.

“A large number of people still don’t know about them,” she said of the online reports.

Katula said there are only a handful of outbreaks a year, but with better education, there could be fewer complaints, re-inspections and outbreaks.

She said the system is weighted based on the complexity of the menu. It buffers the high and low scores, as a business could just be having a good or bad day when it’s being inspected. So scores are averaged by inspections over the previous two years.

The system uses smiley faces with different facial expressions to describe how well the eatery has done. The happiest face means “Best,” having no problems over the previous two years. Next is “Great,” which means only a few violations. Most in Kitsap would receive that score, she said. “OK” is the next step, with a number of violations. And the lowest score is “Needs to improve,” which means the eatery is on probation.

The signs would be placed at various locations at the eateries, and the rating system will give eateries an incentive to improve, she said.

Katula said the biggest challenge is keeping current with inspections because they are short-staffed. Complaints and re-inspections are top priorities. If they fall behind they focus on the ones that have had the most problems.

Another challenge is pressure eateries put on inspectors to not write violations. “It already happens now” and could get worse with the more transparent new rating system, Kataula said. But the inspectors are steadfast and strive for consistency, and don’t make decisions “just because people are being mean to them.”

Katula said the county needs time to educate everyone on the system so it won’t go into effect until July 1, 2025.

Board member Drayton Jackson said one flaw he sees is some violations are worse than others, and the system treats them all the same. “We don’t know what the violations mean,” he said. He added that if people aren’t seeing inspections placed online maybe the county is going about it wrong. He suggested using social media to reach more people.