Entirely by coincidence, I was finishing a reading of Catherine Drinker Bowen’s “Miracle at Philadelphia” as Pullman Regional Hospital was asking voters to approve a $29 million bond issue for expansion and improvements.
Spirited, even vehement, controversy attended the writing of our federal Constitution and the state conventions that had to ratify it.
There are striking analogies in the thought patterns of writing and “selling” of the Constitution and PRH’s development and attempt to “sell” Proposition 1.
Our Constitution was written in closely guarded secrecy, which made for difficulty in “selling” it to state ratifying conventions. There, the same arguments that took place among those who wrote the document were argued anew in state ratifying conventions.
Emotions ran high. Very high.
Many delegates to the ratifying conventions argued that they could not and would not vote approval unless this or that was included. Others argued with vehemence as great that they could not and would not vote for ratification if one thing or another were excluded.
Massachusetts farmers didn’t trust the framers. Jonathan Smith rose in the Massachusetts ratification convention, powerfully urging delegates to accept an imperfect constitution, because it was the best — and likely the only one — they could get.
“I am a plain man, and get my living by the plow,” Smith said. I beg your leave to say a few words to my fellow plow joggers in this house.”
He urged, “I don’t think worse of the Constitution because lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men, are fond of it. ... These lawyers, these moneyed men, these men of learning, are all embarked on the same cause with us, and we must all swim or sink together.”
In closing he enjoined them to “ … gather fruit when it is ripe. There is a time to sow and a time to reap; we sowed our seed when we sent men to the federal Convention; now is the harvest, now is the time to reap the fruit of our labor; and if we don’t do it now, I am afraid we never shall have another opportunity.”
PRH’s Proposition 1 failed twice because too many voters refused to accept a proposal that they deemed imperfect. Some of their complaints were legitimate, but some were ill-informed.
The proposition wasn’t perfect, but there is no promise of a third chance.
PRH is a public, not a for-profit, hospital. Aside from the absolute need to grow to serve the community, failure to expand and upgrade could well result in sale of the hospital to a for-profit hospital. Probably a chain.
Then voters won’t get to have any meaningful input into the hospital’s operation.
As Pullman’s medical community – men and women of money and of learning – face the question of the hospital’s future it would do well to do a better job of involving the community in planning very early on.
It also needs to do a much better job of communicating with the public about the need and proposed solutions.
Terence L. Day is a retired Washington State University faculty member. He and wife Ruth have lived in Pullman for 47 years.