Dr. Gary Koch Scholarship

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We would like to announce the formation of the Dr. Gary Koch Scholarship to be administered as part of the Vashon Community Scholarship Foundation.  This scholarship (or scholarships depending on how much we can raise) will be awarded to graduating high school students who demonstrate high achievement and dedication in any field of endeavor with special consideration for students with broad interests, which may include the sciences, humanities, the arts or technical fields.  We are hoping that enough funds might be raised to continue the scholarship for some years into the future.  Since Dr. Koch’s retirement from the Vashon Clinic in June 2018, many have expressed interest in honoring his many contributions to our community, and we can think of no better way to honor him than by giving back to the people of Vashon and to whom he has been so dedicated.

Dr. Koch saw his first Vashon patients in 1978 while a resident in Seattle at the Doctors Hospital (later merged into the Swedish Hospital system).  A year later he saw patients at the Vashon Health Center as part of his clinical training, and then in August 1980 became employed at the clinic.  At that time Vashon was considered a medically underserved region, and he started working as part of his National Health Service Corps obligation for school loan repayment.  But he never left, and he soon became a committed member of the Vashon community.  At the time of his retirement, he had been caring for Vashon patients for 40 years!

There are of course many who know him from his role as a physician.  He has truly been the “family doctor”—delivering babies, treating all ages, helping with chronic diseases and those with acute injuries.  Gary was always committed to the concept of 24-hour care for the island, and he was instrumental in allowing us to provide this in all but the last couple of years.  But I don’t think many realize all of the other things he did in addition to patient care.  He was the medical director for over three decades.  This involved recruiting providers to a small island with “rural” practice demands for significantly lower pay than on the mainland.  And recruit he did—including Mary Ellen Walker, Mary and John Hoagland-Scher, Gail Fulton, Kim Farrell, Laurel Kuehl, Stephanie Lee, Jeff HansPetersen and many others (and including, of course, me in 1983).  It seemed that whenever there was a shortage of providers or illness, Gary would step in.  He also was a clinical instructor for numerous nurse practitioners and medical residents in training, notably including Kimberly Scheer who went on to set up her own clinic and Katie Konrad who continues now to see patients on Vashon.

Gary was also the one responsible for communicating and negotiating with the Vashon Health Center and Granny’s Attic Boards.  Especially in the first 20 years, he was closely involved with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, which for many years operated with only two medics and an active volunteer organization.  He always let the aid crew know they could call with questions at any hour and that we would see their patients if needed.  Gary was the supervising doctor for the nurses at Camp Sealth for many years, and he was the point person for the school nurses as well.  And he always had a heavy load of patients at the Vashon Community Care center, spending many “off hours” tending to their needs.

As is painfully obvious today, primary care is a struggling field.  It is critical to our health but very poorly reimbursed.  Indeed, this problem resulted decades ago in the original formation of the Vashon Health Center along with the Granny’s volunteers to support it, and eventually it forced the Health Center to merge into Highline, then CHI and now Neighborcare.  For the same reason other clinics have had to close or not take the full range of medical insurance.  When Gary started working on Vashon, we were a formal “underserved area.”  In an odd way, we remain so today with no 24-hour availability and limited general care options.  Despite all of these travails over many years, Gary always seemed to have incredible optimism.  He would never quit looking for an answer to a logistic problem (even when we could not always find one).  He made sure we had clinic parties to celebrate the staff, and he organized our Vashon Health Center parades at Strawberry Festival.

This is only an abridged version of his contributions to health care on Vashon.  But there is more to his community involvement.  Gary has been an active member of the Lutheran Church and on several search committees for its pastors.  He loves music and has sung with the Vashon Chorale for many years, both as member and soloist.  He has been in plays and sung in operas and for chamber groups, fundraisers, funerals and weddings (including my own).  And in almost all cases, he is as excited as a kid in a candy shop to be doing them.

We are proud to establish this scholarship fund to honor Gary and hope those who have been touched by his care and community involvement will consider contributing to it.  No donation is too small—or too large!!  The Vashon Community Scholarship Foundation is a 501(C)(3) organization.  All donations are tax deductible to the extent of the law.  Contributions may be made by check to the Vashon Community Scholarship Foundation (or VCSF) and sent to PO Box 1413, Vashon, WA 98070, or through their website at www.vashonscholarshipfoundation.org.  Please indicate on the check or online form that it is to the Dr. Gary Koch Scholarship Fund.  Please tell all whom you think might be interested.  Thank you so much.