Centralia Mayor Susan Luond has drafted a letter expressing her “deep disappointment in the lack of local engagement” she said the state Department of Health has shown in its effort to relocate an isolation and quarantine facility to a Centralia inn.
The mayor read the letter, addressed to Secretary of Health Umair Shah, aloud at Tuesday night’s Centralia City Council meeting.
In the letter, she asked the department for an alternative site and answers to a number of concerns the city and county still have. She also asked that the state provide a risk mitigation plan and address lost lodging tax revenue the city would lose as the Department of Health occupies the 40-unit Lakeview Inn.
Luond also wants an apology due to the last-minute nature of the move, something a state official provided verbally during a meeting last week.
“We believe that state and local governments should be partners in guiding and caring for our communities, and we find it completely unacceptable that a decision like this was made without once contacting any local government official,” Luond said.
“We have a responsibility to our community members to inform them, provide guidance and protect our community. The fact that your department has made this decision without any engagement demonstrates a stunning lack of respect for our community.”
Luond said the state Department of Health’s decision to relocate the facility from a Jewish summer camp in Thurston County to the Lakeview Inn near Mellen Street also opens up Lewis County to further risk if people don’t comply or if they wander out into the community. The county is ranked ninth lowest among Washington’s 39 counties in vaccinating its entire population against COVID-19.
The mayor’s comments come amid a string of opposition from county and city leaders to the facility, which will provide isolation to COVID-19 patients, such as travelers, shipping vessel crews and work-release inmates.
The Department of Health, which began occupying the facility last Friday, signed a deal recently with the inn’s owners to lease out the space for the remainder of the year.
But not all council members agreed with Luond’s letter.
“I will just say that, like the letter that was presented to us drafted for TransAlta, this is not a tone that I feel comfortable with. I would not like my name on it. I would like to see this as something that is collaborative,” said Councilor Rebecca Staebler. “There are concerns, and we ask that they be addressed and I would like to enter a dialogue to see how they are addressed and not to resist in quite such an aggressive tone.”
Staebler late last month initially brought forward information about the facility to council’s attention.
Wayne Clifford, medical surge branch director with the Department of Health, was also present at the meeting, for the first time in-person, and engaged with the council following Luond’s statement.
Clifford dispelled a rumor he said had been heard in the community that they’d be serving homeless individuals. He said that rumor was false and that doing so would go against their contract.
“The people we do serve are in need of care. They are in need of a place to stay. They’re usually from out of town somewhere and they’re not under any county’s jurisdiction. Like I mentioned before, travelers, we have military staff, military personnel, we have sailors, ship crews, captains,” he said.
“We have transportation. We pick them up. We bring them down to our facility and we take care of them. It’s a very structured and well-run operation. We set pretty high standards for ourselves,” he continued. “We’re public health: we’re not here to allow people to start infection into the community. We’re here to prevent infection from being spread.”
The program is completely voluntary for those workers and travelers who are eager to get over their infections and get back to work. Food and accommodations are provided to the patients.
According to a Department of Health spokesperson, there have only been three instances since the start of the pandemic when a patient has had to be transported from the isolation facility to a hospital. But local officials are still concerned that having more infected individuals in Lewis County could lead to more stress on local hospital capacity.
Clifford said the state plans to work with a network of hospitals that can divert patients to other regional hospitals in an effort to mitigate that.
Clifford said that while the terminology might seem scary, it’s really just about “giving people a place to sit and go through the disease and be monitored so that they’re not infecting other people.”
The state Department of Health is considering a long-term site at the Maple Lane Correctional Facility.
Clifford said they couldn’t move forward on using that site, though, because the detention facilities aren’t as walled off and isolated as a motel.
Data metrics that arise from the facility won’t affect in any way Lewis County’s reopening efforts, the state health authority says.