Response to “Health Services Desert: West Hill’s Public Health Crisis”

Editor’s note: The Emerald received a letter from Richard Brooks, Executive Director of the Renton Area Youth and Family Services, in response to the articleHealth Services Desert: West Hill’s Public Health Crisis”, which was published November 27th, 2015. We are reprinting Mr. Brooks’ letter at his request, as well as a reply from Anne Althauser, the columnist who penned the article.

 

From: Rich Brooks, Executive Director, Renton Area Youth and Family Services

Dear Editor, (Marcus Green) South Seattle Emerald

I read the November 27th article in the Emerald “Health Services Desert: West Hill’s Public Health Crisis” and wanted to respond. As you know, Renton Area Youth and Family Services (RAYS) has a long term commitment to improving access to mental health, substance abuse, and primary care services to West Hill residents. RAYS offers a variety of youth and family support services to that community through our Cynthia Green Family Support Center which is located on the West Hill. We know and acknowledge that the community is dramatically underserved, as the article states, in terms of health care services. That said, RAYS is part of some recent developments that are in the exploratory stage, but are definitely promising for the not too distant future. Our agency is working on partnerships with Valley Medical Center, King County Public Health, and HealthPoint Community Health Centers that could well bring healthcare services to a West Hill site. These conversations are very positive, with much work yet to be done. (I might note here that the loss of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax some years ago severely reduced the financial resources of our Public Health services in this County and State.) The recent passage of the Best Starts Levy in King County offers some financial support for community based medical services. In a related service area, RAYS is also in discussion with Valley Cities Mental Health to provide services on the Hill.

I understand that the community has had too long a wait for these much needed services to it’s residents, and there is much well-earned frustration. I believe that the passage of the Best Starts Levy, the Affordable Care Act, and new conversations among healthcare providers does present new opportunities. Also the Communities of Opportunity Initiative from the Seattle Foundation and Best Starts offer the community an important chance for grass roots planning and service development. This is all part of some newly emerging and clear possibilities for significant services on the West Hill. RAYS, working with other nonprofits and King County are working to make that a reality. Thank you.

Rich Brooks

 

Anne Althauser’s reply:

Dear Richard Brooks,

Thank you for your response to our recent article. I would like to say up front that I appreciate the work RAYS is doing in West Hill, providing services for this historically underserved community is no simple task.

As a columnist, I have free range to use my voice and topic area expertise at the South Seattle Emerald to raise awareness about various issues, and I thoroughly enjoy writing for the Emerald because of this. These topic areas most often include public health, politics, and racism.

Since combining all three of these topics into a piece called “Health Services Desert: West Hill’s Public Health Crisis,” I have received a flood of positive comments from residents of West Hill who agree the County is still not doing nearly enough for their area.

As you know, though much of West Hill has a Seattle address, officially it remains an unincorporated region of King County, as such, it has no city to depend on for vital services. This effectively makes the County itself the resource provider of first and last resort. The reason I initially wrote the article was because the area’s 14,000 residents have extremely poor access to any type of health services, and have experienced this scenario for more than a decade. I stand by my column–with both feet, wearing heavy boots.

In addition to what can be read in the article’s comments section, I have had a handful of people introduce themselves to me in public and share how necessary my column was.

“I worked in Skyway for more than 15 years, day after day I saw people who complained about having to travel just for basic health needs. Speaking truth takes courage and conviction, and is what journalists are supposed to do. Anne did that and I thank her so much,” Cynthia Green shared in letter of support.

Green also told me that during her tenure at the West Hill Family Center, now named the Cynthia A Green Center in her honor, she frequently met residents of the area who needed to travel miles in order to get their medical needs addressed. This was compounded by the fact that many needed to rely on public transportation, sometimes loading up families of up to five on a bus between medical appointments when a babysitter wasn’t available.

In contrast, I have received an astoundingly negative set of comments from Public Health – Seattle & King County, who disagree with the views from this column out of defensiveness.

The response from the County does not surprise me, as they have every right to feel embarrassed regarding their inaction in West Hill, not to mention their lack of relationships with West Hill residents. As stated in your letter, there are “some recent developments that are in the exploratory stage,” which simply reads to me like, “[white noise],” the same sounds have greeted West Hill residents’ requests for services for years. Talking about talking about talking about a problem has so far not fixed anything.

Bridgette Hempstead, who I quoted heavily in the article, also told me, “In my dealings with the County around health resources for this area, they’ve always been hypersensitive to any type of criticism. We have over 14,000 people who have been pleading with the County for years to get more services up here. We couldn’t get the Times, the Stranger, or KUOW to talk about it. It took Anne coming here in her off-time to amplify our voice…”

I recognize that your hands are tied here as RAYS is 75% funded by the government (including County grants), therefore it would not be wise to outwardly take sides with a zealous journalist who’s ruffling the County’s feathers. Funding structures alone are problem enough if we want to talk about where and how County funds are allocated (I’ll save that for another day #jobsecurity).

As journalists, we play a vital role in keeping the County accountable to its word, and with the support of the West Hill community, that’s what I intend to do. I want nothing more than for the County to “prove us wrong” and use funding from Best Starts for Kids and other sources to funding medical services in West Hill. I look forward to what comes out of these “very positive” conversations, and will be following the story the whole way.

Thank you,

Anne Althauser

Photo credit: Matt Mills McKnight

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