By Polly Keary, Editor
Tony Balk served on the Monroe City Council for 12 years before deciding in 2011 not to run for a fourth term. Prior to that, he’d been a fire commissioner.
So he might be excused for retiring from public service, but instead, he has stepped forward to run for a seat on the Valley General Hospital Board of Commissioners.
And since he is running unopposed, he is very likely going to take that seat in January, whereupon he will have an opportunity to help guide the direction of the hospital, which is currently undergoing a period of rapid change.
Balk said that he plans to try to help the hospital adjust to those rapid changes, which have included serious financial losses in recent years, the recent passage of a levy that will result in new funds to support the hospital, and a partnership with EvergreenHealth of Kirkland, which began at the start of the year.
“The short term is getting the hospital’s financial house in order,” he said.
Valley General is a taxpayer-owned hospital, and as such, many policy and budget decisions are made by a three-person board of directors who are elected by the people in the district.
So Balk will have an opportunity to help guide the financial affairs of the hospital. He said that the passage of a levy in April will make that job easier.
“Thanks to the voters, a major step will take place next May, when we see the first payment from the tax the voters approved,” he said.
Before investing in growth, he said he thinks it’s important to stabilize what the hospital has.
“We need to make sure we start building up the reserves again, and make sure that we strive for excellence in service to the community,” he said. “We need to make sure our house is in order and current services are of the highest quality, and then look to expand.”
Once the hospital is performing optimally, it will be time to think about adding new services that could improve health care service in the district, Balk said.
“I think there are many opportunities to enhance our service by partnering with Evergreen,” he said.
Balk said he thinks that one of the biggest challenges that the hospital had faced in recent years, that of good, long-term leadership, has been solved.
The hospital went through a series of CEOs and interim CEOs until Eric Jensen took the job in late January.
“I met Eric Jensen and I’m very impressed with him. He understands public hospitals,” said Balk. “Quite frankly, knowing that he’s going to be around for several years was one reason why I decided to do it. One of the things the hospital needs is strong leadership, and I think we have that.”
Balk worked on the April levy, and as he knocked on doors to try to convince voters to support the tax increase, he said he learned how much people value the institution.
“Some people shared disappointment about the hospital and the emergency room, and they also said they were voting yes, and that says how important the hospital is to the community,” he said. “And it’s an important employer, and that money stays in the community. The hospital is an important element for the health of the community.”
It was the presence of the hospital that helped him to decide to move to the community in 1995, he said.
“One of the things we looked at was what were the cornerstones of the community, and there was a hospital, and having one there was important,” he said.
Balk anticipates taking the position on the board Jan. 1.
Then, he said, it’s time to look forward.
“We need to make sure what is being delivered is exceptional quality, and then enhance medical service to the community with our relationship with Evergreen,” he said.
There’s no such thing as good enough, he added.
“My favorite quote is by the poet e.e. cummings,” he said. “‘No best is so good that we cannot conceive of better.'”