The Road to Wellville

Forget “Berkeley of the East,” try “Sweden of the West!”

That’s what they will be calling Takoma Park when the city gets an urgent, primary, and preventative health care facility. The Health Services Impact Committee wrote out this prescription in their preliminary report to the city council Feb. 2.

Starting off easy, the committee says, the city must first convince the state legislature to change the law so that alternative health practitioners have the same primary physician status as conventional doctors.

Then comes the hard part – sparking a “paradigm shift” to raise the country out its current health care crisis.

Of course, the city will have to arrange low rent for health and fitness facilities, high rent being one of the causes of high health prices.

OK, so its a teeny-tiny bit ambitious, but what’s the fun of living in a progressive community if you don’t try to change the world every once in a while? Isn’t that the whole point of having a progressive community? And, this makes the city’s Burma policy and the nuclear-free zone look like sandbox play.

The committee, formed in 2006 when the Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH) first announced its plan to pack up and leave Takoma Park for the suburbs, has been researching city resident’s health care needs and the effects of the hospital’s departure.

They conducted a survey and focus groups in four languages to get a diverse set of opinions and data.

Their conclusion was that is impossible to ignore the affect of what they call the “national health care crisis” on city residents with or without the departure of the hospital. The failures and inadequacies of the US health system are coming home to roost, they say.

Uninsured people have no primary health care – instead they wait until they have severe symptoms and go to emergency rooms. Usually, they can’t pay. This drives up everyone else’s health care costs.

Insured people are badly served by allopathic (conventional, Western) medicine and the insurance system, they say. The focus is on curing illness once it has occurred, but people would be better served, and expenses would be lower, if the focus were also on prevention and fitness.

As the committee’s report states, “Our goal as a community should be for every City resident to attain and sustain a condition of true health and wellness, rather than simply managing disease.”
So, based on that and their survey and focus group results, the committee proposes that the city advocate for the following:

1) An “integrative clinic,” with doctors and practitioners of all kinds, including allopathic and naturopathic physicians, nurse-midwives, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and so forth.

2) A wellness or fitness facility.

3) An urgent-care/after-hours facility.

If that doesn’t kick up enough dust, Dear Reader, here comes the tornado. The committee says “The City must acknowledge an obligation to contribute towards this cause, including a possible monetary commitment.”

Whoop, whoop, whoop!!! There go the alarm bells, get into the storm cellar, Dear Readers!

Yeah, the mind-boggled council, when they were done making breathless “weeble, weeble, weeble” noises and pulling their eyelashes back down off their foreheads, were a tad skeptical of that part, impressed as they were with the scope of the overall report.

Councilmember Clay warned the committee that “money is a stumbling block to many things we’d like to do.” Asking if the actual cost to taxpayers, say an additional $100 to $500 a year, had been discussed on the survey or in the focus group.

No, it hadn’t, said the committee members.

Clay reminded them that the city’s income is from property taxes, and if the city arranged low rental rates for health practitioners, that would likely mean lower property taxes as well.

She also asked if the facility would have to be at the WAH site, pointing out that transportation would be easier to a site on the NH Ave corridor. NH Avenue is a multilane road and all the streets around the WAH are 2-lane.

The committee members said WAH was not the only site they considered, their only aim was to locate it close to city residents, and the N.H. Avenue corridor would meet that goal.

Councilmember Wright said it could create an unfair tax burden if the city were funding health care – especially if nonresidents were using the facility. Funding should come from the state or federal governments, he said.

The committee pointed out that they also called for funding from state and federal sources, and partnering with WAH, other hospitals, and institutions.

But What About the Impact?

Oh, right! The committee did include information about the impact of WAH’s departure on citizens.

The survey and focus groups indicated that there were two vastly different populations in the city, and the hospital’s move had different impacts on each.

The affluent folks were less concerned. Many of them have not used WAH. They go to other hospitals or facilities for their health care needs. Some of those who do use WAH would be willing to drive to the new location. Other than an interest, especially in households with children, in having an urgent care facility close to their homes, there was little impact.

The poorer people, many of them seniors, unemployed, and reliant on public transportation, depended more on WAH for their health care and would be seriously impacted.
Just about everyone wants some kind of urgent care facility at the WAH location.

Speed Trap

Your Gilbert thinks it would serve the council right if the rumors Mayor Bruce Williams has heard turn out to be right. He’s heard that the state government, desperate for cash, is about to redirect moneys from speed camera violations from municipalities like ours to the state. The speed cameras that the city has invested money to set up in expectation of a windfall profit were part of the county’s Safe Speed program, designed to get around state laws that route moving and parking violation fees to the state.

The mayor asked the city’s new lobbyist Anne Ciekot if she had any information that would confirm or disprove the rumor. She said that she’s heard nothing about it one way or the other.

However, she repeated what she’d just said in her legislative update to the council; though the state is low on funds due to the economy, there are indications that there will soon be more federal stimulus package money available than previously expected. So, the legislature may not need to grasp at such straws as speed camera tickets.

Takoma Park state delegate and former city councilmember Heather Mizeur is sponsoring a Just Cause Eviction bill, designed to protect renter’s rights. Recent revisions have made the bill more palatable to the county council who will likely back the bill, giving it a good chance at passage.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is being supported by state senator and local resident Jamie Raskin. He’s trying to pass legislation that requires voting machines be able to accommodate that system of voting. We have this in Takoma Park, Dear Readers, it lets us cast votes for first, second, and third choice.

Councilmember Wright asked Ciekot what was being done about the state police spying scandal. She said Senator Raskin has cosponsored a bill about it that has yet to come up for a vote, and that there will be hearings on the matter.


Your Gilbert recommends to you Dear Readers not to stand still too long if you are out in public in Takoma Park. You might find yourself tiled head to foot.

The Mosaic Maniacs, officially known as the Mosaic Project are on the loose, ready to slap a decorative ceramic mural on anything that doesn’t move.

They gave a colorful slide show to the council, showing them completed and proposed mosaic treatments on public buildings around the city. Their web site has some of the photos shown in the slideshow.

– Gilbert.

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

3 Comments on "The Road to Wellville"

  1. Alain Thery | February 6, 2009 at 7:15 pm |

    This all sounds like a bad acid flashback (after all these years, no less). Are we hallucinating or are they?

  2. Valerie Tonat | February 10, 2009 at 12:59 am |

    I am speechless at some of the recommendations made by the “Health Services Impact” Committee. I put the committee name in quotes because it seems to me that their alternative medicine ideology has overwhelmed a real understanding of the health care needs of the uninsured. Preventative care means people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, hypertension and other cardivascular conditions, respiratory conditions, and so on get diagnosis, treatment, medicine, monitoring and counseling for a health problem before it causes a crisis that requires hospitalization. The uninsured also need follow-up care after hosptalization, including, but not limited to, medical tests and physical therapy. Smoking cessation clinics, AA and NA groups, depression screening, mental health services, nutrition counseling, exercise classes, well-baby care, pre-natal care, and pediatric care are worthwhile preventative care. Unproven new age-y stuff and therapies left over from the 19th century are a silly diversion of scarce resources. And, no, as a taxpayer I’m not willing to foot the bill with extra city taxes. That’s a county and state function. For our household property taxes are now roughly a third of our monthly house payment. Enough.
    I’m curious to know how many people who either work in conventional medical clinical care or public health were on this committee. Chiropractors get the same primary care status as a licensed physician? We’re going to take this up as a cause? Please let common sense prevail and rule this out. How does the clinic get malpractice insurance for a naturopath? We just lost the nurse practioner-staffed Takoma Women’s Clinic because the malpractice insurance became unaffordable even though they practiced conventional medicine and had an OB-GYN practice backing them up.
    It seems to me the committee report has shown their work to be a waste of our resources.

  3. Valarie,
    Your Gilbert did not take up the space to list the specifics of what the committee had in mind, or the committee’s composition. The posting was getting longish as it was. We only had space to hit the main points.
    In fact, what they envision is much as you describe it. Bringing back a midwifery practice was mentioned as well. Nothing particularly “new-agey” was described. No one using the facility would be forced to go to a type of practicioner they were uncomfortable with.
    There are a number of doctors or people in related fields on the committee. ONE of them is a local, certified naturopath, an acupuncturist. She seemed highly respected by the conventional doctors on the committee.
    The emphasis of their plan is not on naturopathy, nor is there a slant towards it. Rather the emphasis is on a combined approach.

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