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Today's Headlines: July 10, 2024

Health care providers ink agreement to improve primary care

Several of Washington’s largest health care providers signed an agreement Tuesday to work together to improve the state’s fragmented primary care system.

“This signing is a milestone in our primary care work that represents years of hard, roll-up-the-sleeves work by payers. It takes leadership and courage to push for change and leadership and courage to create the action that makes that change happen,” said Judy Zerzan-Thul, chief medical officer for the state Health Care Authority.

The authority is one of nine members of the Multi-Payer Collaborative that agreed to work together to improve access and quality of care for patients, while reducing bureaucratic hurdles and costs for providers and employers.

Dr. Jay Fathi, the CEO of Molina Health Care, said improving basic care throughout the system will pay dividends for everyone.

“Every study that has ever been done on the planet for the last couple decades, whether it’s in downtown Detroit, sub-Saharan Africa, downtown Seattle, rural Pend Oreille County, the more access to primary care that individuals have, the healthier they are, the better their health outcomes are and the lower their costs are,” he said.

Fathi’s company signed the agreement. So did several other companies that serve patients in eastern Washington, including Kaiser Permanente and Premier Blue Cross.

New Washington crime stats are out

The annual crime report from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs shows violent crime was down overall in the state, about 5 1/2%, during 2023.

Steve Strachan, the agency’s executive director, said 382 people were murdered last year, 17 fewer than the all-time high in 2022. He says that’s an encouraging sign, but points to troubling trends in the numbers.

“If you look at, for example, Black Washingtonians, who make up a little over 4% of the state population, make up 23% of victims of murder. A little over 4% of the state of Washington, but they make up 16%, are four times more likely to be a victim of aggravated assault, over twice as likely to be a victim of robbery, twice as likely to be a victim of motor vehicle theft,” he said.

Strachan warned Washingtonians not to read too much into the figures from a single year.

“We’re seeing some good numbers in terms of some decreases in crime in our state. That is a good thing, no matter what,” he said. But “it is not anywhere near pre-pandemic levels. It’s nowhere near 50-year lows. We have much more work to do and let’s be very straightforward about what that data says and why.”

The number of reported motor vehicle thefts jumped from about 47,000 to more than 54,000 in 2023. Another big increase came in the number of juveniles arrested, up 24% from 2022.

Strachan said the state added about 100 officers, pushing the total to nearly 10,800. That reverses a several-year trend of a shrinking police workforce.

“When there are more officers, they’re able to respond to the call more quickly, maintain evidence when necessary, deal with victims, deal with the family, follow up and, in too many communities, we don’t have any of that right now. It’s just as much as you can with the few officers you have and get on to the next one,” he said.

Strachan said Washington still ranks last in the nation in the number of officers per thousand of population. He said the state employs about 1.35 officers/1,000 people, compared to the national average of 2.31 per 1,000.

Kroger and Albertsons propose selling hundreds of stores

Grocery giants Kroger and Albertsons say they will sell 124 stores in Washington to aid their proposed merger.

Federal and state authorities are challenging the merger, arguing it would reduce competition and potentially lead to higher prices for groceries.

KUOW reports the stores will be sold to New Hampshire-based wholesale grocer C&S. Two Spokane Safeway locations are on the block, though most of the stores are in the state’s western third.

In all, the two companies will sell nearly 600 locations in eighteen states and the District of Columbia.

WA Dems reflect differing views about Biden’s candidacy

Washington Democrats are about as split as their colleagues at the national level about whether President Joe Biden should remain in the race for the White House.

One of the Democratic candidates for eastern Washington’s seat in the House of Representatives, Dr. Bernadine Bank, acknowledged the good things Biden has done in office but called on him to step aside.

The state’s senior U.S. senator, Patty Murray, didn’t go as far as Bank, but she did call for Biden to do more to prove his capability to the American people.

Washington Democratic Party chair Shasti Conrad said Monday she backs the Biden-Harris ticket.

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Reporting was contributed by Doug Nadvornick, Owen Henderson, Brandon Hollingsworth and Dyer Oxley.