MOSES LAKE – Incumbent Samaritan Healthcare Commissioner Dale Paris is being challenged by former commissioner Joe Akers for one of two open seats on the hospital district commission.

The Columbia Basin Herald submitted three questions to each candidate, with identical word limits and a deadline to submit their answers. Where needed the answers have been cut to fit the word limits and to ensure fairness to both candidates. The newspaper encourages voters to contact the candidates if they want to discuss issues in more detail.

Responses are in alphabetical order according to the candidates’ last name.

Election Day is Nov. 7, with ballots being mailed to voters about Oct. 18. Early voting opens Oct. 20.

What prompted you to serve in this position?

Akers: This question has a couple of pieces to it. The first reason stems from my time as an employee of Samaritan Healthcare. Upon my return to Moses Lake, I accepted a position with Samaritan and, during that time, saw a difference in what is presented in the monthly commissioner meetings and the reality of the day-to-day operations. So, with that, I have a new perspective and can ask the questions that will drive transparency in the public hospital. The second issue is around the building of the new hospital. I am pro-hospital, but I firmly believe that the hospital should have kept its word of funding it through operations, not a bond. Samaritan has services that underperform, duplication of staffing through consultants, and a generalized lack of effort to address waste.

Paris: That’s a good question, and one a candidate should ask themselves whether it’s a new term (re-election) or first-time candidacy. Ultimately, for me, it’s a matter of unfinished business. The board and staff have worked very hard since 2016, when we developed our current long-term strategy and vision. We’re on the cusp of achieving our vision for a new hospital, and seeing the project come in on time and on budget is my primary motivation.

What are the three most important issues you see facing the hospital district?

Akers: My current top three are:

I am less concerned about the construction process and more about the idea Samaritan leadership has that a new building will drive the additional business to increase profits, which they call the halo effect. I am more concerned about the staffing needed to safely and effectively care for patients. This is not limited to doctors and nurses; it also includes nutritional services, maintenance, security, environmental services, imaging, and many other vacant positions. Lastly, I want to ensure that Samaritan is meeting the needs of our growing communities, finding partnerships that won’t waste Samaritan’s limited resources, and sustainable service lines.

Paris: There are many issues facing the hospital district, but they are not unique to Samaritan. Three of the most pressing: Revenues versus expenses. Continued mismatch in inflationary prices on the expense side and the relative inflexibility of reimbursements on the revenue side. Samaritan relies nearly 70% on Medicare and Medicaid revenue. Governmental reimbursement does not respond quickly to inflationary pricing.

Recruitment and retention. While our recruitment has been steady and our turnover rate less than the national average, we still have hiring needs in excess of what we’re able to recruit in certain areas. As a result, we employ temps, which cost more and can cause some stress on the organizational culture.

Maintaining a healthy organizational culture. Samaritan Healthcare has added nearly 200 employees since 2016. The growth alone can challenge a healthy culture, but add in a pandemic, installation of a new electronic health record system, planning a new hospital, and staffing with temporary workers, and the culture can become unwieldy. The issue is to remain focused on the organizational mission, vision, and values. While the new hospital is an undeniable community need, Samaritan will only achieve the trust necessary for continued success by staying true to our mission, vision, and values.

What are the top three things you want to do – your three most important goals – if elected?

Akers: My top three goals:

  • Create transparency by having virtual meeting access to the public, no more retreats outside the district to allow easy public attendance, and commissioner rounding with frontline staff.

  • Annual Service Line cost-benefit analysis to drive improvements and eliminate waste.

  • Model and drive a culture through a CEO that results in high-quality patient care, employee retention, and community satisfaction.

Paris: As I stated above, seeing the new hospital come in on time and on budget.

The disposition and/or repurposing of the existing hospital. We’re forming a committee to discuss the alternatives and will work with our legislators to seek opportunities that may be available.

Continue to be a conduit of information between the community and hospital staff, requiring open and transparent communication, and helping increase local access to quality care.


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