Kitsap Public Health Board declares crisis in response to high healthcare costs and inadequate access to services

The resolution commits the Board and Health District to advance a public health approach to addressing costs and barriers to accessing care.

KITSAP COUNTY, WA — The Kitsap Public Health Board discussed and unanimously approved resolution on July 11 declaring high healthcare costs and insufficient access to healthcare services in Kitsap County public health crises.

Resolution 2023-04 cites the many barriers that Kitsap residents can face when seeking healthcare, including high and unpredictable costs, inadequate insurance coverage, and shortages of healthcare providers and services. These barriers contribute to poor health outcomes and disproportionately affect people in different racial and ethnic groups, people with limited economic means, people with disabilities, and additional populations that have historically been excluded from the healthcare system.

Data show Kitsap County trails state and national averages for access to emergency care, urgent care, primary care, and some specialty services, including obstetrical, maternal, and mental health care. Gaps in services have been widened by strains on the local healthcare workforce and lingering impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolution was reviewed by the Health Board’s Policy Committee in June. Health Board Members Greg Wheeler, mayor of Bremerton, and Dr. Michael Watson, a practicing family physician, presented the resolution to the full Health Board at its regular July meeting.

“The whole idea behind this is putting down in words the magnitude of this crisis as far as a strained workforce, the costs and diminishing access to services,” Wheeler said, noting that the resolution will provide clarity as the Board works to understand and address complex healthcare issues. “Without goals, we waste time, energy and money.”

“Our goal is to call attention to the circumstances in the region and commit to finding a plan forward and a way to avoid worsening circumstances in the community,” Dr. Watson added. “… it will take the entire community and I think this resolution offers that impetus.”

The resolution commits the Health Board and Kitsap Public Health District to advancing a public health approach to address healthcare costs and barriers accessing care. Last winter, the Health District contracted with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security to conduct a comprehensive review of Kitsap’s healthcare system and recommend strategies for improving access for all Kitsap residents. Health Board members said they expect the crisis resolution will help guide actions taken in response to findings from that study, which will be completed in December.

“We do have a health care crisis. We all know it,” said Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson who chairs the Health Board. “We need to push those resources toward this as deliberately, as accurately, and as thoroughly as we possibly can in order to improve the conditions in this county, period.”