Benton Commissioners meet to discuss putting a crisis recovery center in the old Kennewick hospital – by Mike Lowery*, Guest Writer

This was a special Benton County Commissioner’s meeting at 6 pm on 9/1/21 to informally
discuss matters regarding the creation of a Crisis Recovery Center (CRC) at the old Kennewick Hospital also known as the Trios Auburn property at 8th and Auburn in Kennewick.

The Meeting Agenda

The matters highlighted in the agenda included:

1, Discussing a .01% sales tax, a penny on every ten dollars spent in Benton county to help fund the CRC,

2. Creating an Advisory Committee for the CRC,

3, Discussing the Property Condition Assessment Report for the Trios Auburn Property.

I attended the meeting by video so I was not sure which commissioners were speaking at times because of face mask. When I refer to “the Board” I mean it in general. Not all of the Board agreed with everything I heard them say. It was hard to hear “who said what”. They were all there, Commissioners Shon Small, Jerome Delvin and Will McKay.

The commissioners shared that they were eager to move forward on the project and wished for
public input for almost all matters associated with the CRC.

Sales Tax

Concerning the tax, they know discussions need to be held but are in support of moving forward with the process because as they mentioned it will serve our community greatly.

If I heard correctly one of the Board supports a half of .01% tax increase if Franklin County gets involved. We heard an audience member support that value. Others that spoke agree with the full amount of .01% with or without Franklin Co.

While it is uncertain whether Franklin County will be involved, Benton is moving forward and all who
spoke this evening were in support.

It was also shared that revenue from the tax in our county should be about five million dollars a year. Since no budget was mentioned, it’s hard to understand if it’s fair.

Treatment for Children and Teens

Many people in the room and the Board want the CRC to deal with
children and teens. The board mentioned our juvenile justice center and jails are crowded with
people who just need mental attention. Helping younger children saves the community from
potential social unrest and improves everyone’s quality of life. The lack of services in our
community is stressing caregivers, our police officers and our small mental health community. It’s
clear the Board is listening to the community.

Mobile mental health team

The Board and some people in the audience want to see in the budget a quick response mobile mental health team to reduce officers’ time at a scene when they can serve us better elsewhere. Secondly the Board and some community members were clear on providing free services for the everyone who needs it in the first 24 hours.

The Advisory Committee

An Advisory Committee was discussed in some detail and both the Board and the attendees
were in agreement one should be created. The number 13 was discussed before the meeting
for amount of people needed on the committee, all with skills needed for task.

Several audience members offered to help, many very qualified it sounded. You can’t see them on the video stream. One gentleman with over 40 years experience and several degrees in counseling and
rehabilitative services mentioned it sounded like the board was evaluating some old data for inhouse detox/rehab. He said that more recent data has suggested that out-patient detox and rehab were more

Seems like a good thing to know. There was no discussion as to whether the Advisory Committee will
have the luxury of visiting other facilities as the Board did. It does seem apparent a
single provider is in the Board’s mind and that may be something the advisory committee will
help with.

Rehabbing the hospital building

Finally there is the issue of the old building’s health and what will it cost to get it
running. No one from a construction background opened up to being on the advisory board but I
am sure the Board will assign someone. The Wave Design Group did the assessment on the old
hospital and here is what they found. This is a copy from the weekly meeting held at 9 am this
same day.

Architectural Assessment of Building Façade
o Building Roof
o Interior finishes
o ADA Compliance

Structural Assessment o Foundations
o Building frames
o Water damage
o Recommendations

Mechanical Assessment
o HVAC Components
o Maintenance Costs
o Service Water

Electrical assessment
o Lighting and receptacles
o Utility Service
o Emergency Back-up power
o Electrical Power Distribution Equipment

Estimated costs

Could be phased construction and use of the building doors until ADA replacement – $1,000 per door
10 doors= $10K, Wave didn’t say how many. Restrooms – $25,000 per restroom, 4 restrooms = $100K, how many are there? Wave didn’t say. How many need reconfigured? It depends on over all design.
Investigation of water intrusion – $20,000. They could not give an estimate of the
cost of repair until the investigation report was complete, in my home owner experience it will
cost more!
Structural repairs – minimal – $10,000 for fire proofing
Mechanical – $1.4 million – complete like-for-like replacement – end of life (not
necessarily needed to be the same high level as a hospital, but this was “worst case
Electrical – replacement of outdated – $50,000
If this all holds true and we just do 10 doors and four bathrooms it will cost about $1,590,000. I
think the county has 2.5 million. then there is the water issue…..

In all the Board was pleased with the numbers. Now this is me thinking. Notice there is no
number for ambience like paint, lighting and other creatures comfort like chairs, and desk.
Rooms for people that may harm themselves, cameras and a way to process that data. Then
there is security and making areas inaccessible from patients and public. We need workers to
feel safe and able to practice without fear and in comfort. Some of this capital spending we need
upfront with security doors, hard-wired cameras and then bullet-proof windows. I’m not sure
security has been mentioned much.

There is easily another million or two they will need to get the building going before people are in it. It sounds like the .01% tax is just for operational needs. Staff and support staff for such a large facility needs discussion, maybe cities can pitch in. Cities will save resources in areas that the CRC will cover.

Who knows? This is what the planning meetings are for. There are more coming. We need a nice facility to help people move forward in a positive way.

Retraining facility?

Those were the three issues discussed during the meeting. I will add, a lady said she was
worried if we built this the Federal government may take it over and teach people what to think?
She said she wasn’t a conspiracy theorist. I have only heard of Retraining facilities in Russia, N.
Korea and China. No one confirmed this wouldn’t happen, so who knows maybe she is
right…..Everyone at the meeting was in favor of this project with or without Franklin County.

*Meet Mike

Hi, I am Mike Lowery and will be helping the Observer cover events in Benton County. I have
spent about 25 years of my 60 year life in the Tri-Cities, most in Richland. After Army and a
short career working on boats I went on to college at CBC. Then I worked 15 years on
commercial nuclear power plants. We moved back to Tri-Cities and been in Richland for 20
years. I tried to help Hanford for 18 years. I have three degrees from Columbia Basin College,
yes that’s weird. Studied economics and religion at Liberty University, St. Leos College in FL,
University of Illinois, University of Washington more at CBC. House dad now to my working wife,
two cats and a dog. Our boy’s all work and study in the northwest. I spend time riding my eletric
bike or crashing it, building small wood and metal projects, enjoying Electronic Music and
camping. Writing is something I love to do but not very good at it.

Richland Council to vote on reducing bus funding, Randy’s Rundown of the August 9 special meeting

The Richland City Council will hold a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 9 to decide whether to support a proposal from the Benton County and Franklin County Commissions to fund new mental health services by reducing funding for Ben Franklin Transit.

Councilmember Phil Lemley represents the city on the Ben Franklin Transit Board. At the Aug. 2 council meeting Lemley asked the council to decide how they want him to vote on the issue when it comes before the board.

The agenda for the special meeting includes Ben Franklin’s 2022 budget and tax revenue projections.

The county commissions propose reducing the .6% in sales tax that the agency currently receives to .5%. The reduction would require a referendum on the November 2, 2021 ballot.

Under state law, the commissions could raise the sales tax .1% or about a penny on $10.00 without a referendum.

Opponents of the change argue that while a .1% reduction doesn’t sound like much, it represents about $7 million or approximately 17% of the $44 million budget based on 2021 figures. About $35 million of that came from the transit tax.

Opponents also argue that cutting funding for public transit hurts many of the people that the community seeks to help with improved mental health services.

The resolution on the Ben Franklin agenda for Aug. 12 is to DECLINE placing the matter on the Nov. 2 ballot.

This spring Benton County received $2.7 million from the state to study building a mental health facility on 4 acres the county already owns.

The plan to rehab the old Kennewick General Hospital for the facility collapsed when the current owner of the building, LifePoint Health, wanted non-compete restrictions on the sale. LifePoint, a for-profit corporation, owns both Trios Hospital in Kennewick and Lourdes Hospital in Pasco. Lourdes provides some mental health services. LifePoint is owned by Apollo Global Management which currently sells on the New York Stock Exchange for $61.40 a share.

The council will meet at 6:00 p.m. for the special meeting that can be viewed in person at city hall, by ZOOM, or by watching City View Channel 192.

Covid-19 has made more Tri-Citians dependent on the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court could strike down in June

If the Supreme Court declares the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, thousands of Tri-Citians could suddenly find themselves without health insurance when the program’s total enrollment has grown.

About 31,000 Benton and Franklin county residents had no health insurance in 2014, according to the Washington State Office of Financial Management. By 2018, that number had fallen to about 21,000.

Many of the newly insured obtained coverage through the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, which includes people with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

The ACA also gave people like small business owners and others who were not covered by an employer an option for insurance.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last November about the ACA’s constitutionality. The court will decide by the end of June 2021.

If the law is scrapped, more families will find it impossible to pay for insurance coverage. Others may have to pay budget-busting premiums.

Some people with no insurance may put off preventative care if they cannot afford to visit a doctor. Not treating problems like high blood pressure and diabetes will result in unnecessary suffering and more expensive care as the conditions worsen. Neglect could also be life threatening.

“They make you beg for it”

According to one local woman I call Jane to protect her privacy, “The Affordable Care Act has been a real blessing.” 

Jane said that before the ACA, she had to apply for high-risk insurance because of her blood cancer. Since this type of coverage does not usually transfer from state to state, she had to reapply when she moved to Washington. 

“Over the years,” she said, “based on my income, insurance premiums have gone down because of the ACA.”

Without the ACA, more patients will be forced to apply for charity to cover their hospital bills. Washington requires hospitals to offer charity care for anyone below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $24,000 for a single person, and around $52,000 a year for a family of four.

Two indigent patients described the difficult process.

“Dolores,” who is disabled and on assistance, said that at Walla Walla St. Mary’s Hospital, “They make you beg for it.” 

“I’m on disability and have no secondary insurance and I get food assistance and housing assistance,” Dolores said. “It should be pretty clear that I am an indigent patient, and they know well ahead of the game what Medicare agrees to pay and what I will be left owing.

“I told them from the beginning that I couldn’t pay,” she said.  “They let me flounder and go to collections instead of trying to work with me from the beginning.” 

The state requires that the availability of payment relief be publicly displayed throughout the hospital including the places that patients check in. 

Dolores said she didn’t believe that the hospital’s efforts to publicize the availability of the charity care were adequate.

It took her a year to settle her bill, about $8,000.

Another patient, “Cynthia,” had a different experience. She arrived at Kadlec after being hit by an SUV. She received $25,000, the minimum amount of liability insurance that a driver must have, so she could hire an attorney to help her negotiate the system.  He worked with the surgeons and hospital to reduce the bills. To prove that she was truly indigent, her lawyer gave Kadlec a picture of his client working at her low-wage job. 

“I received bills after I thought I’d received all of the charity I applied for,” Cynthia said. “My attorney’s final (donated) assistance was to successfully pressure them to reconsider.”

Even with legal assistance, it took Cynthia over a year to settle her hospital bills, about $78,000.

State has limited protections

Washington passed a law to protect several popular consumer protections if the ACA is repealed. Insurers in Washington cannot impose life-time caps or exclusions for pre-existing conditions and adult children under 26 must be allowed insurance on their family’s plan.

However, in an Oct. 15 letter, Gov. Jay Inslee and state health officials told U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell that state law “provides no protection for Washingtonians who simply cannot afford the coverage.”

Inslee and the officials also pointed out that since the COVID-19 pandemic, 80,000 more people statewide have enrolled in Medicaid expansion. Based on the Tri-Cities population, that could mean as many as 3,200 more people here are covered under Medicaid.

Inslee and state health officials predicted “a total loss of $4.2 billion annually in federal funds for residents across the state who currently receive free or low-cost coverage under the ACA” if the federal law is struck down.

Tri-Cities Face Mask Makers celebrate 30,000 masks

Cassandra “Cassie” Oakes, founder of Tri-Cities Face Mask Makers, models a mask.

In the last 8 months, Tri-Cities Mask Makers made 30,000 masks for area hospitals, police departments, postal workers, firefighters, hospices, prisons, food banks and dozens of other groups.

According to the group’s founder, Cassandra “Cassie” Oakes of Richland, “We filled all of our orders and everywhere you look now there are masks for sale for a few dollars.”

Oakes, a stay-at-home mother of four boys, started the group in March when she read a Facebook post from a local doctor describing the need for face masks. Oakes said, “I could sew and the community needed masks, so I began making them and started the group.”

March seems like a century ago, but many of us can still remember when the coronavirus first started galloping through areas of Washington. Medical professionals appealed to people to save the diminishing supply of surgical masks and N95 respirators for health care workers on the front line.  They recommended that everyone else make their own masks.

When requests for masks came pouring in, Oakes set up a system so the group could fill them in order. She also organized teams of people for every task.

Volunteers included sewers, runners who delivered supplies to sewers and picked up and delivered finished masks, and cutters who cut the pieces from fabric for the sewers to stitch together.  The group even included elastic untanglers.

Oakes posted a picture on the group’s Facebook page of what looked like a bag full of spaghetti. She asked, “Do we have any takers on untangling this type of elastic & cutting it into 10-yd lengths for kits?”  Within minutes two people volunteered. 

Oakes could not estimate how many people volunteered with her group but eventually her Facebook page, Tri-Cities Face Mask Makers, had 1,500 members. 

Becky Holstein Pospical of Richland made 1,000 masks. Pospical said, “I had nurse friends who asked me to please make masks. At about that time this group popped up.”

“People did whatever they could,” Pospical added.  “My high school friend donated four bolts of fabric.”

“As someone who has sewed my whole life, I was happy to learn that there are others like me out there,” Pospical said.

Amy Hanson, also of Richland, decided that she was not a sewer. She recalls, “I made a few masks and decided – no way!”

Hanson became a runner because she said, “I know how to drive.” 

Hanson recalls, “One lovely lady set up ice coffee for me when I came over to pick up or deliver. I met a lot of happy, nice people.”

DeAnna Winterrose, another Richland volunteer, made almost 2,500 masks but she said, “I don’t deserve all the credit for those.”

“I had volunteer cutters. Their work and other supplies would miraculously arrive at my door. I had a continuous supply. All I had to do was put the word out,” she said.

Winterrose described how she became worried watching the beginning of the pandemic while in Hawaii. “When I returned to Washington, making masks helped take my mind off of it,” she said.

Winterrose also credits a friend at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories who volunteered to check fabrics for their filtration ability. “That way we knew our masks were actually protecting people.” 

Oakes coordinated all of these tasks while making masks herself and even doing training videos for eager volunteers. She said, “Everybody wanted to help in some way.” 

Oakes said that her management skills came from years of motherhood after a career in banking. “I tend to be organized,” she said.

As the group shuts down Oakes admits, “I am exhausted.”

She added, “It feels refreshing to be able to bring people together to do something for the community. Knowing there are so many good humans out there makes my heart happy.” 

Runner Jo Breneman of Richland praised Oakes, “The Tri-Cities Face Mask Makers was an incredible endeavor, and Cassie deserves all the kudos we can give her.”