Editorial: If we don’t change, we may lose very thing we want to save

One of the great debates — or should we say vigorous discussions — shaping up for 2016 is that of health care on the local, state and national level.

On one point most of us agree: Something’s got to be done. Escalating costs are not sustainable.

On the best way to solve the myriad of problems associated with health care — including high costs — there’s plenty of room for disagreement and different diagnoses of what ails the industry.

Kenai Peninsula Mayor Mike Navarre was in town last week encouraging members of the Homer-Kachemak Bay Rotary Club to reserve judgment on the work of the borough’s health-care task force. The task force isn’t out to shut down South Peninsula Hospital or reduce health-care services in Homer.

In fact, just the opposite is true. The goal is about preserving and expanding services to all peninsula residents. The task force is trying to figure out how best to do that in a rapidly changing environment.

High costs are not the only challenge to the peninsula’s health-care system. An aging population, difficulty recruiting health-care professionals and regulatory overload are all part of the mix. It’s a tough time to be a small, rural hospital.  Fifty-eight have closed since 2010.

Mayor Navarre hopes to keep the two borough-owned hospitals — Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna and South Peninsula Hospital in Homer — from a similar fate.  In order to do that, he wants the borough to plan for the future and not react to it.

He’s keenly aware it won’t be easy. Several times during the course of his talk, Navarre mentioned how difficult change is. He knows residents of the southern and central peninsula are fiercely proud of their hospitals. The hospitals not only are economic drivers in the borough, but they also are beloved institutions. When people hear that consultants have been hired to advise the borough on how the hospitals can work more efficiently and perhaps under a single entity, they sometimes jump to wrong conclusions, including that they may lose the health-care they value that’s right in their neighborhood.

But just as doing nothing is not an option to solve the state’s financial woes, doing nothing also will put the borough-owned hospitals in a precarious position. If we aren’t willing to change, our lack of action may kill the very institutions we say we want to save.

That’s why Navarre is urging all borough residents to participate in finding a solution.

This is the time for peninsula residents to put their heads together and find a strong local remedy that provides affordable, accessible health care to all and that will withstand the pressure of the things over which we have no control — federal mandates, for example. 

If the peninsula does this right, it could set the standard for health care in rural areas across the nation. If it doesn’t do it right, the outcome will be polarizing — not much different than the debate over President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

We applaud Mayor Navarre’s desire to plan for the future, instead of react to it. As he told Rotary Club members: “Hope is nice, but it’s not a plan.”

If nothing else, peninsula residents should reserve judgment on the task force’s work until more is known. We hope, however, residents will rise to the challenge and see this as an opportunity to help shape the future of health care on the peninsula. We’ve got a lot to lose if we don’t.