One question I get a lot is the question regarding health care options on the island. On the island we have a number of doctor’s offices and ‘during the day’ walk-in urgent care. Virginia Mason, Swedish Primary Care, CHI Franciscan Medical and Bainbridge Pediatrics are the largest offices, plus a number of smaller offices. What we do have on the North Kitsap side is the St. Michaels Hospital in Silverdale (CHS Franciscan), that opened in 2020. It is accessible off the Agate Pass Bridge to the north. But, since large hospitals like Children’s Hospital, Harborview and UW Medical Center are in Seattle, the ferry and transport time can pose an issue for a critical emergency.
What many people don’t know, however, is that we do have a heli-pad at our main fire station on Madison Avenue. The heli-pad has been in use on Bainbridge since 1972, first through Army MAST Helicopters and now through several transport agencies affiliated with the Life Flight network of Washington. A helicopter transport is the quickest way to get off the island and to a hospital supporting the needs of the emergency.The upside is that a helicopter transport can be faster than an ambulance navigating busy city streets. The downside is that a helicopter transport ride can be a very expensive unplanned cost (costs can be upwards of $20k) and most medical insurance companies do not provide full coverage.
For my clients and those new to the island, I recommend that you first check with your medical coverage to see if they cover air transports. If your plan does not cover flights I suggest looking into other coverage options your carrier may have. If you do have coverage you can purchase additional coverage (your main carrier will likely NOT cover the entire flight) for your entire immediate family for only $60 through Aircare Northwest. The Aircare Membership Program helps fund Airlift Northwest, the actual helicopter program. They provide residents in communities in South East Alaska and Washington with high-quality air medical service at an affordable cost. Full program details are here. To register now, click here. There are other helicopter transport and insurance companies and prior to 2020 they had reciprocity, but they no longer do. Aircare Northwest has the closest bases and who I believe most islanders use. You can research Life Flight Network to read about other options. I think the additional insurance coverage is a great deal especially since I personally know of families who have had to use the service. And living close to the heli-pad, I can attest that is does get a fair amount of use. You never like hearing the helicopter coming in or taking off because it does usually mean a potentially life threatening situation, but at the same time, I always feel grateful that we have service so close.
About a year after we moved here I learned that our standard ferry crossing (35 minutes) can be sped up in an emergency and the ferry can actually cross in about 18 minutes. Again, I learned that from experience. It was indeed a different ferry ride to cross in about half the time. In that situation, an ambulance will call ahead and the ferry will wait for the ambulance then take off when it arrives. They will not necessarily load the rest of the boat. This happens for semi-critical cases. Also, again from experience, we learned after checking out from a Seattle hospital post-surgery, that hospitals can issue you a priority loading pass. When you arrive at the ferry terminal you go straight to the front of the line and are the first to load.
Our fire and emergency personnel are fantastic on the island. I have seen them in action and we are very fortunate for the first responder level of care we have on Bainbridge. A few years ago the fire department started offering reflective address numbers to help them find our homes and businesses quicker when there is an emergency. In our rural environment, it can be tricky.Kitsap County has taken over the program and provides blue reflective address number for a small fee. For more info, click here.