Planned Gig Harbor hospital needs community support


Irene Torres, KP News

Franciscan representatives share plans at Key Pen meeting

If the show of support at the Key Peninsula Civic Center on Oct. 30 was any indication, the new hospital in Gig Harbor can’t be built soon enough. Nearly 50 residents turned out, and even state Rep. Lois McMahan made the trek to the Key Peninsula to hear the details of the proposal, well-presented by Laure Nichols, senior vice-president for planning and business development, and Budd Wagner, vice-president for marketing, of Franciscan Health System (FHS).

“It’s not a done deal,” said Wagner, noting that hospital bed allocation is a “heavily regulated business, requiring a lengthy certificate of need process,” conducted by the state Department of Health.

Nichols, a third-generation Key Pen resident, said, “The state needs to hear from citizens that the new hospital makes good sense and will benefit the entire area.” A public hearing will give citizens the opportunity to testify with examples of the need.

Key Peninsula Fire District No. 16 Chief Eric Livingood Nelsen discussed the “out of service” time required for fire service personnel to transport patients to hospitals in Tacoma and Bremerton. “Thirty minutes is a very good day, and the road through the Wauna curves is no freeway,” he said, citing Fire Department statistics as averaging 70-80 minutes out of service area for every patient transport.

Members of the audience related their personal experiences of delays in reaching the hospitals. Wagner encouraged such testimonials at the hearing. “We invite the support from the community and we’ll pound the pavement to spread the word” about the desperate need for a local community hospital, he said.

Wagner noted that hospitals are the most expensive buildings, and when locations are chosen, they are “sited for a century.” Good freeway access is important and detailed studies of neighborhood impact are an essential part of the planning process. Franciscan has an option on 20 acres property near Canterwood, off Highway 16 near the Burnham/Borgen Exit in Gig Harbor, with an option on more land for future expansion.

The services to be offered at the new hospital include a Level 3 or 4 Trauma Emergency Department. Care for severe burns and organ transplantation services will not be offered, nor will obstetrical services. Wagner said that only about 400 Gig Harbor/Key Peninsula area women deliver babies annually; to maintain competent OB care, a minimum of 1,000 are needed. All other hospital services are planned, including medical, surgical, and critical care, inpatient and outpatient surgery, heart catheterization, diagnostic services (MRI, CT scan, ultrasound and mammography), physical, occupational and speech therapies, and a sleep disorders clinic.

“Let’s get the hospital built first, the other things will fall into place,” said Larry Treleven, FHS board member.

But the new hospital “isn’t a slam dunk,” said Wagner. The state considers the need within all of Pierce County. Franciscan Health System studied the need for over a year. The Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas comprise the second largest state population with no local hospital. As part of the study, 400 residents were surveyed.

“Eighty-nine percent of the respondents said they support a new hospital…The other 11 percent didn’t understand the question,” quipped Wagner. The survey also indicated 93 percent of area residents see a need for 24-hour emergency care closer to home. And 71 percent reported a need for good paying jobs.

Approximately 4,200 people left the peninsulas for inpatient care in 2002, in addition to the 8,000 outpatients, according to Franciscan research. The numbers are increasing by 8 percent annually. There are 3,500 emergency transports every year from the Key Peninsula, which translates to about 30 patients every day.

A letter of intent was filed with the Department of Health in June 2003, and the Certificate of Need application was submitted in August 2003. A public hearing was scheduled for Dec. 3, but has been rescheduled to accommodate another application; the new hearing date is not known yet. A decision is expected by the summer of 2004. Planning takes up to 12 months, to work through zoning requirements; construction takes another 18 to 24.

Initially, the hospital is planned for 112 beds, 80 of them are to be open by 2007-08, with shelled-in space for 32 more beds. The hospital will create about 450 jobs.

The three local FHS hospitals, St. Clare (Lakewood), St. Francis (Federal Way) and St. Joseph Medical Center (Tacoma) are listed among the top 100 hospitals in the United States for clinical quality of care and efficiency—according to Wagner, who cited a national study conducted by the Solucient Institute, an Evanston, Ill.-based health care information and research organization, that announced the results of its newest survey on Sept. 29.

FHS representatives are confident that private funding for the $94 million project can be accomplished. No taxes will be required to support the hospital.

“But we can’t take the decision (to approve the new hospital) for granted,” said Wagner.

Support letters

Franciscan Health System representatives are available to speak at meetings of community groups to explain the plan, the Certificate of Need process, and garner support from the people of the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsulas. They also plan mailers, advertisements, and other publicity.

Supporters are encouraged to write firsthand letters of support (no emails, no faxes) to:

Karen Nidermayer; Certificate of Need Program; Department of Health. PO Box 47852,Olympia, WA 98504-7852.

Ideas to include in letters of support:

Why do you believe a new hospital is needed?

How has the lack of a local hospital affected you or your family?

Do you worry about the length of time it takes to reach emergency medical facilities? Does traffic congestion or crossing the bridge to access medical care concern you?

Last year, FHS provided $27 million in care for people with no medical insurance. Do you support the mission of FHS to extend service to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay?

If you’ve received good care and attention at a FHS hospital, let the state know of your support for quality care from a trusted local provider.

For information, see or call 1-888-825-3227.