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Kitsap County Medical Society celebrates 80 years

Throughout its 80 years, the mission has stayed the same: To promote the art and science of medicine; to promote the care and well-being of patients; to protect and improve the health of the public; and to serve and provide leadership for the members of the society.

Last Friday, more than 300 members and friends of the Kitsap County Medical Society gathered to mark 80 years of service to the community. The celebration was a way to mark the work of the society and the changing face of medical care during those 80 years.

According to Dr. Ron Reimer, the group had very humble beginnings.

“Kitsap County Medical Society was founded in 1934 by a group of Bremerton physicians who, frankly, were tired of catching the last evening ferry from Seattle after attending King County Medical Society meetings,” he wrote in a recent history of the organization. “They had lots of house calls to make and home deliveries were the norm. They had no ER staff to cover for them, and certainly no pagers, cell phones or other mobile devices to help them stay in touch.”

So they opted to created their own medical society right at home in Kitsap County.

And now, 80 years later, the organization has grown to be one of the most noted in the state, accord to executive director Rebecca Carlson.

In 2001, the Kitsap County Medical Society formed a nonprofit foundation which serves to promote health and education in the community through support of charitable activities. Previously, it had been known as an auxiliary and an alliance which in the early years included mostly spouses of the doctors who belonged to the society, according to Carlson.

Now membership in the foundation is open to anyone and includes community volunteers. Together, the medical society and the foundation have more than 500 members.

The foundation’s main project has been helping to reduce childhood obesity. That includes the Family Fun Run and Fitness Fair, which is in its 10th year.

As part of that, the foundation partners with area schools and physical education teachers helping kids become active by running and walking miles and keeping track of them. And there’s a component of the program that helps kids learn about nutrition.

“By the time the fair comes along, some of the kids have totaled enough miles to where they’ve run a marathon,” she said.

Another program the foundation sponsors is Youth Fit, where along with the YMCA, kids who are identified by physicians as overweight and at-risk for poor health can receive a three month membership to the YMCA. The kids attend meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays and work out at the gym for free. These kids families also can workout at the YMCA during this time.

“We know that changing behaviors takes getting the parents and the siblings involved,” Carlson said.

There are measures of success that program participants need to reach, and if they do, they get to extend their free membership.

The foundation also supports foster children at the holidays, the YWCA Alive Shelter for victims of domestic violence and sponsorship of doctors on medical mission trips.

Most of the foundation’s work is paid for through the funds raised at its Fire & Ice Gala, an annual fundraising dinner and auction.

The foundation’s work is not only important because of its service to the community, but also because it helps keep good medical professionals in Kitsap County.

“We’re learned over the years that one of the main reasons doctor leave an area is because their spouses aren’t happy,” Carlson said. “We know that by getting their spouses out and meeting people and volunteering, they become a part of the community and they are happy.”

The Kitsap County Medical Society is run by an eight member board. The group also has four delegates who work on legislative issues of importance to the medical community. Membership includes being part of the Washington State Medical Association.

In doing research about the organization for its 80th anniversary celebration, Carlson came across many interesting historical facts about the organization.

A video has been produced about medical care in Kitsap County and the role of the medical society and is available online at their website www.kcmedical.org.

Reimer’s research into the history of the society showed that during World War II local hospitals provide care to local residents in exchange for a $2 a month family subsidy from the federal government.

“One can only imagine the discussions between KCMS and the hospitals regarding the area’s first capitation system,” he said. “In 1946 the 25 physicians in the society sponsored the county’s first prepaid health insurance plan. Dental was added in 1949.”

By the late 1970s, the medical community had dramatically expanded with an influx of young specialist and primary care physicians, Reimer said. KCMS then founded Kitsap Administrative Services, the first computerized billing services in the county.

In the 1990s, the medical society and its members wrestled with significant health care reforms that caused “no small degree of upheaval to most local providers,” Reimer said. “We all had to learn new coping strategies and a new vocabulary.”

By the beginning of the new millennium, KCMS assumed several new roles. This transformation included the foundation which raised thousands of dollars annually to support community health projects.

The society also has become more active with local hospitals to recruit and retain new physicians, fund nursing education and most recently participate in the dialogue regarding Harrison Hospital’s affiliation with the Franciscan Health System.

“All of these accomplishments evolved from our mission statement, but depended on our ability to maintain a functional, dynamic organization capable of meeting the challenges of the times,” Reimer said.

 

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