Island Forum: Port in a storm

OK, voters, give yourself a pat on the back.

When the public passed Initiative 900 two years ago, it gave the state Auditor’s office the authority to perform independent performance audits. Such audits go beyond the nickel and dime stuff and focus on what the agency is doing and if it could do it better.

In the Port’s case, it could - and should - do a lot better.

In a nutshell, the audit discovered the Port:

It ran up $97.2 million in unnecessary costs.

Authorized a contract for the Third Runway at Sea-Tac Airport that was $32.7 million higher than an engineer’s estimate. Worse, the details of the contract were concealed from the Port commissioners.

Divided some contracts into multiple $50,000 contracts and then sometimes amended them to higher amounts. That avoided triggering the Port’s rules on competitive bidding.

Bumped one contract for a consultant from $10 million to more than $120 million. That, the auditor’s report said, cost taxpayers $60.5 million.

What’s the Port’s response?

New Port CEO Tay Yoshitani says he disagrees with some of the auditor’s findings, but the Port will implement most of them. Most?

The audit report also said that the Port stonewalled the investigation and that the staff blocked access to information. The audit also charged that some documents were altered before they were released to the auditors.

If you think that’s bad, 11 Port managers even refused to sign a document saying that that they provided accurate information to the auditors.

Isn’t there a law about this somewhere? If not, why not?

Port officials say that the Port is a large business that undertakes billions of dollars of construction each year. So? That’s supposed to excuse waste and possible fraud?

In case you forget, part of your taxes go to support the Port. Commissioners certainly owe us an explanation. They ought to owe us a refund.

Craig Groshart is the editor of the Bellevue Reporter, a sister paper of the Mercer Island Reporter.

New Year’s resolution for a healthy heart: to live longer

Kathy Hutchinson
Island Forum

If you are one of the 71 million Americans with heart disease, chances are you aren’t doing all you can to feel better and live longer. The same goes for people with high blood pressure and diabetes. Cardiac rehabilitation (CR) is the way to do it, but despite strong evidence that these programs improve health and prolong life, less than 20 percent of eligible patients actually participate.

What is Cardiac Rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised exercise program that improves cardiovascular fitness and helps patients make the crucial lifestyle changes necessary to slow or even reverse heart disease. Programs also create a wonderful social environment — proven essential for anyone wanting to stick with an exercise program. CR programs don’t only help those who already have heart disease; many programs in the area also offer services for those trying to prevent disease, including patients with high blood pressure or diabetes.

In a recent study evaluating participation rates for CR (Circulation: Journal of The American Heart Association, October 2007), researchers state “Almost all patients … could benefit from cardiac rehabilitation. Importantly, this benefit applies regardless of age, gender, or race.”

Why Don’t More Patients Take Advantage of CR Programs?

With all the evidence showing the benefits of CR, other researchers asked why participation rates are so low. They found the following top reasons: low physician referrals, geographical accessibility, third party reimbursement issues and patient motivation. Bypass surgery is a big event in someone’s life, and the study noted that bypass surgery patients are far more likely to participate in CR than those who’d had a heart attack.

The AHA “recommends physicians aggressively encourage cardiac rehabilitation to improve quality of life and stabilize or reverse the progression of heart disease.” Even if your physician hasn’t mentioned CR, ask a local program to initiate a referral. Although not on every street corner, CR programs are offered at most local hospitals as well as multiple community centers, including the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island. Medicare covers early phases of CR for patients who have had certain types of procedures and later phases of CR are offered at reasonable rates. Most programs offer financial assistance for those who qualify.

Don’t get in your own way

As with anyone trying to start an exercise program, cardiac patients are often their own biggest obstacle. Finding a way to stick with an exercise program is key, and CR programs can help. It’s this author’s belief that exercise is the single most effective way of improving your health. What’s going to be your wake up call? Will you wait until you suffer the trauma of bypass surgery, or is the desire to be there for your family enough?

How do you get started?

First, work closely with your doctor and utilize resources like the American Heart Association’s patient resource Web site at www.americanheart.org/cardiacrehab. Set short-term, realistic goals and plan for setbacks. Find a motivational tool; exercise with a group or join a CR program. CR programs will track your progress to help you stay motivated. Most importantly, find a type of exercise you enjoy. Get moving and get healthy!

Kathy Hutchinson, MS is an Exercise Physiologist and the Director of The Beat — the cardiac prevention and rehabilitation program at the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC) on Mercer Island. The SJCC is open to everyone. Kathy can be contacted at 232-7115 ext. 273 or kathyh@sjcc.org.

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