McKinney, McKay credited for area move to Phase 2
Yakima, Benton commissioners opposing regionalization of public health
Last updated 2/16/2021 at 10:40am
YAKIMA – Two Central Washington county commissioners are being credited for Saturday’s local move to “Phase 2” of Gov. Jay Inslee’s current coronavirus recovery plan.
Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney and Benton County Commissioner Will McKay last Thursday recognized that the state Department of Health wasn’t accurately reporting coronavirus-related data for the so-called “South-Central Region.” The governor's designation includes Columbia, Walla Walla, Franklin, Benton, Yakima and Kittitas counties.
Following a press conference that day in which the governor said he would authorize the rest of the state to move to Phase 2, a disappointed McKinney and McKay decided to research coronavirus-related numbers themselves.
“As soon as I saw the numbers, I was sure there was a mistake,” McKinney said Monday, noting she reached out to McKay for help in compiling all the numbers.
“We contacted each other and felt the numbers didn’t add up,” McKay said.
McKinney said she knew the numbers were in error or possibly being manipulated, pointing out that keeping the area shuttered fed into a “narrative” the governor and some state agencies have created about South-Central Washington.
McKinney and McKay shared data that had been presented by local health officials. They also reached out to multiple hospitals to obtain and review the numbers they were reporting. The duo found the numbers being reported by a Walla Walla hospital just didn’t add up.
“I was very certain it was a mistake,” McKinney said. “Something was significantly awry.”
“She did the leg work,” McKay said of McKinney’s digging into hospital coronavirus data. “She found the mistake in Walla Walla’s numbers.”
The duo reached out to local lawmakers; McKinney also contacted Congressman Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who called out the governor and demanded the region move ahead. Newhouse represents most of the counties as part of the 4th Congressional District.
Meanwhile, McKinney said she was getting more and more fired up after talking with parents whose kids were being denied sports and other activities while the governor’s supporters and their children were being allowed to move ahead.
The mounting pressure from McKinney, McKay and Newhouse prompted the state Department of Health and the governor to reverse the previous decision and move the final region to Phase 2.
Lack of accountability
The error was very obvious, McKinney said, noting anyone with knowledge of basic statistics could have caught it.
And while the error would’ve kept the region shuttered in “Phase 1,” the bigger problem is the lack of accountability by regionalization, the state Department of Health and the Governor’s Office.
Both McKay and McKinney have been vocal in their opposition to the governor’s “Healthy Washington-Roadmap to Recovery” regionalization plan.
“Who’s looking at the data at the (state) DOH and contemplating if it makes sense,” McKinney said. “It was an exorbitant error. I’m really disappointed they didn’t catch it.
“Or did someone flag it and do nothing about it?”
McKinney accused the state of “one-way communication,” suggesting state agencies and the governor tell local officials what to do, but refuse to listen.
“Regionalization is a terrible idea,” she said.
McKinney has testified on the matter before the Legislature, where mostly Western Washington Democrats are trying to pass a bill to make the governor’s attempt at regionalization legal.
Currently, the governor does not have statutory authority to group counties together into regions.
The governor and other Democrats in Olympia figured that out last month when they introduced House Bill 1152 and companion Senate Bill 5173. Both are moves to legally create health regions, while subverting local public health authority.
McKinney has already stepped up to oppose the bills and testified before the House.
House Bill 1152 is being co-sponsored mostly by Western Washington Democrats, plus 3rd Legislative District Rep. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli, both Spokane Democrats.
“They are trying to take our voice,” McKay said.
Instead of regionalization, McKay said Gov. Inslee and the Legislature should let local health officials do their job. He also said the issue is non-partisan.
“Whether your Democrat or Republican, your voice is gone (under regionalization),” McKay said. “Our local leadership should be in charge, rather than the governor controlling everything.”
With Democrats in Olympia and Spokane continuing their push to make regionalization of public health decisions legal, McKay and McKinney plan to continue to oppose their efforts.
The duo also plans to step up their review of numbers being released by the state.
McKay said he’s now insisting hospitalization data be provided to local health districts for review before the state make’s any coronavirus-related decisions.
“If Walla Walla’s hospitals numbers had gone to the health district, the error would have been caught,” he said.
McKinney, too, believes local health officials are best equipped to review numbers and determine if there’s a local public health emergency to address.
She said the error that would’ve kept the region in Phase 1 is a “prime example” of why public health decisions should be made at the local level.
She also said she’ll be monitoring coronavirus numbers and state decisions closely.
“We would never have been able to discover it (the reporting error) if it wasn’t for our tenacity,” she said.