Pediatrician Dr. Valerie Horn with young male patient.

Getting in to see the doctor has gotten harder over the years. It’s been an exercise in patience—waiting until office hours to call, then waiting on hold for someone to answer only to learn that it might be weeks before you can see your provider. But that’s all changing. And, while CEO Elise Cutter will be the first to admit there is still work to be done, at Island Health, we’re making it easier than ever for you to get the care you need.

“We’ve made great strides in improving the ease of access you have to your provider and healthcare in general. It’s been a focus of our entire team and I’m extremely proud of the work they have done to make healthcare more accessible for our community. We know there is more to do and it is going to take time to address some of the major systemic issues in healthcare, but I’m optimistic that we are moving in the right direction,” said CEO Elise Cutter, MBA.

We heard you

When Island Health began in 1962, our focus was to ensure critical healthcare services were available close to home. That continues to be our priority. We’ve taken a look at how we can best continue delivering the care that’s most necessary in our community.

Our recent Community Health Needs Assessment along with our strategic planning process, helped identify needs and priorities to ensure the most accessible healthcare.

View the 2022-2024 Community Health Needs Assessment

Defining the needs

The greatest needs in our community mirror those across the country: not enough access to primary, preventative and specialty care. With 25% of our hospital district comprised of residents age 65 and older, the health needs of our community and demand for care will continue to increase as the 65+ age group is expected to grow.

What does “access to care” mean?

Simply put, it means the ease with which an individual can obtain medical services in a timely manner with the best possible health outcome. It means not only access to a provider, but also access to health insurance. And it means affordability and availability of care. We’ve been working hard to break down barriers—waiting for months to see a provider or waiting on hold to make an appointment. Here’s how we’re doing it:

  1. Provider Recruitment
  2. Health Education Programs
  3. Call Center Improvements
  4. Patient Portal Enhancements
  5. Community Partnerships

1. Provider Recruitment

Expanding Primary & Specialty Care

We know when you are not feeling well, you can’t wait to see a provider.

Our vibrant community, beautiful island location and solid reputation enables us to attract highly trained medical staff. We recently welcomed six new primary and family care physicians, and three new specialty providers. We continue to recruit new providers and are focused on several key positions in 2023.

The addition of new medical staff means you’ll be able to see a provider sooner and continue to receive award-winning care right here in our community. Your options are even greater with the expansion of virtual visits, the flexibility of seeing another care team member or visiting the Walk-in Clinic for minor illnesses and injuries.

2. Health Education Programs

Never Stop Learning

Island Health is also committed to offering free and low-cost health education classes and programs. The Health Education Department, previously known as Community Education, collaborates with Island Health providers, dietitians, respiratory therapists and other medical experts to provide diverse classes on preventative health topics. Community members have access to both in-person and virtual classes to learn about common health issues and wellness practices.

The Health Education Department also has community partnerships with the Anacortes Senior Activity Center and Hospice of the Northwest to offer free and important classes on aging. Additionally, we offer classes for expectant grandparents and those who have developed conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis over their lifetime.

Whether you’re a new parent or a senior wanting to learn the latest tips on health and wellness, Island Health has programming for every age.

3. Call Center Improvements

Say Goodbye to Long Wait Times

We know how frustrating it is to be put on hold, especially when you’re sick. Last year, we made a significant overhaul of our Call Center to help lower wait times and improve the patient experience.

  • The average speed of answer decreased from over five minutes to under one. More than 80% of calls are now answered within 30 seconds.
  • The Call Center now offers extended hours.
  • Our phone call abandonment rate improved from 18% to 3% in one year.
  • Our representatives direct messages to clinical staff in a more streamlined manner, so the care team can connect with patients on urgent matters.

Take control of your health—schedule regular appointments with your provider.

Need a primary care provider? Speak with a Call Center team member today at 360.293.3101.

4. Patient Portal Enhancements:

Your Health Information at Your Fingertips

Nowadays, we book travel, order groceries and schedule parent-teacher conferences all online. Accessing your healthcare has also changed with patient portals. Recent enhancements on the myIslandHealth patient portal make it easier than ever to schedule your care, 24/7, right from the comfort of your own home.

Convenient self-scheduling
Finding time during the day to call and schedule an appointment has been a source of frustration for busy patients. Now, appointments can be easily self-scheduled on the patient portal—no more calling on your lunch break and waiting on hold. You choose the date and time that works best for you. Island Health has had more than 726 patient appointments booked online since scheduling on the portal launched in August 2022.

Prompt care team messaging
It’s important to let your healthcare team know right away if you have questions or concerns about your health, a medication you are taking or a recent lab result. Many times, these can be answered without scheduling an in-person visit. Instead of calling and leaving a message during office hours, you can send a message through the portal any time of day. Portal messages are reviewed and responded to within 48 hours—often less. There’s no waiting on hold or waiting for a callback.

Easy online registration forms
Say goodbye to clipboards and paper forms! Now, you can complete some of the registration questionnaires on your personal device before your appointment. You’ll receive an email notification which will prompt you to log in to your portal and complete your forms.

Check out the many other portal benefits:

  • View, download or share a recent visit summary (including lab results, imaging reports or immunizations)—it’s all there, in a timely fashion!
  • Access family accounts all from one place. For parents or caregivers, patient portal proxy access is key to managing the care of loved ones.

If you have questions about how to use any of these features, please give our Portal Support team a call at 360.299.1385, or email them at They are happy to help you over the phone or, if needed, setup an in-person meeting.

Sign up today
Activate your myIslandHealth Patient Portal and view helpful step-by-step enrollment videos:

5. Community Collaboration:

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

We are fortunate to have a strong trifecta of partnerships—neighboring organizations that work with us to care courageously for our community. In collaboration with the Anacortes Family Center (AFC), Anacortes School District and Anacortes Fire Department, Island Health has worked to break down barriers that prevent people from accessing healthcare; meeting them where they are and where the need is greatest.

Anacortes Family Center
The Anacortes Family Center (AFC) provides shelter and transitional services to women, children and families to prevent homelessness. Island Health has created a pathway for AFC clients to see a provider within 30 days of their request. This is key because one qualifying element of participation in AFC’s programs is to establish care with a primary care provider. This streamlined process guarantees appointments for AFC families to access healthcare, which may often be overlooked and challenging for families in crisis.

AFC has also partnered with Island Health on priority housing and childcare for income-eligible essential healthcare workers in their new building on 26th Street, which offers studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments with the first floor housing an Early Learning Center.

Anacortes School District
The collaboration with Anacortes School District (ASD) addresses a critical need in our community for youth mental health services. Through generous community donations to the Island Health Foundation, Island Psychiatry & Behavioral Health provides two clinical social workers, psychiatric oversight and program management in the schools. By embedding social workers in the schools, geographical barriers are reduced and accessing mental healthcare can be made on campus at ASD’s middle, high or Cap Sante schools. Over the years, the collaboration with ASD has grown significantly to meet the needs of our youth.

Anacortes Fire Department
Another beneficial collaboration is with the Anacortes Fire Department’s Community Paramedicine Program (CPP). Led by paramedic Steve Monrad, the primary goals of this program are to:

  • reduce unnecessary and inappropriate Emergency Department (ED) visits and prevent hospital readmissions;
  • reduce 911 calls by high utilizers;
  • refer underserved and vulnerable patients to appropriate health, social and community resources.

Island Health providers and staff, care managers and ED team contact Monrad with concerns regarding patients. By performing home visits, he reaches patients where they are, assessing physical and environmental concerns, documenting health information back to our care team, and engaging community resources to support the patients.

Most requested CPP visits are for elderly or disabled patients, although many visits are also related to mental health concerns and/or homelessness. Monrad’s demeanor lightens the workload for our staff as he is always receptive and willing to support each individual.

“Steve Monrad is an amazing human and his authentic kindness and empathy allows him to connect with vulnerable community members, which results in successful support.”

Patty Codd, Director of Results Management, Island Health



Read our latest news in the 2023 Heartbeats magazine!

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Published on March 7, 2023