Firefighters union will give $30,000 to charities

Donations a result of changes made to health care provider

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The Vancouver Firefighters Union is donating $30,000 to the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington and to Loaves and Fishes, as a result of the changes it made to its health care provider last year.

In a new contract with the city, the union moved to its own insurance pool and also hired a new broker, Liberty Benefits Group, to negotiate its contracts, Firefighters Union President Mark Johnston said Wednesday.

Liberty Benefits does not accept bonuses from private insurance companies, but the companies hand them out anyway, he said.

“What (Liberty) said to us is, ‘We’ve got the money. We’re not going to keep it and use it for our profit,’” Johnston said. “So (the union) is going to use that money to give to a charity of our choice.”

The money does not come from taxpayers, but comes from the private insurance company.

Johnston said that as a result of Liberty’s refusal of bonuses, “we know they’re working for us for certain. They’re not getting any bonuses that would incentivize them to steer our business (in any) way.”

The Free Clinic of Southwest Washington will receive $20,000, while food donation charity Loaves and Fishes will get $10,000.

Free Clinic Executive Director Barbe West said $20,000 will cover medical visits for 900 patients spread over 20 free clinic sessions.

“When (Johnston) called yesterday, I think I caught him off guard because I kept saying, ‘A re you serious?’” West said, adding the money was an “absolute” help.

The clinic serves more than 11,000 people a year, with all doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians and other medical personnel volunteering their time.

Johnston said the union decided on Loaves and Fishes because of the good work the agency does in the community, and the free clinic because several members volunteer there.

“They do a great job of providing health care for those in the community who other wise wouldn’t have any,” Johnston said. Donating the money, he added, “feels great — it’s one of the best things I’ve had to do as president of the union.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall; andrea.damewood@columbian.com.