The birth of a hospital: St. Anthony project breaks ground


Danna Webster, KP News

Music from the Peninsula High School Jazz band entertained hundreds of guests arriving for the official groundbreaking ceremony for St. Anthony’s Hospital on April 26. Heavy equipment continued to roll across the site, as well-wishers and officials gathered to celebrate the occasion. Mistress of Ceremonies Laure Nichols, a Lakebay resident, explained the reason the event was held indoors.

“We don’t want to delay a moment of work,” she quipped. Nichols was credited as the “get it done” person, and a key leader responsible for the hospital being built in Gig Harbor. She is a senior vice president for strategic planning and business development for the Franciscan Health System and it was her role, as emcee, to recognize the significant contributions of the many supporters from the community, government, and the hospital administration.

Gig Harbor Mayor Chuck Hunter was the first speaker Nichols introduced. “Chuck Hunter worked very hard to assure that this hospital be built, from the first hour of his first day in office,” she said. At the microphone, Hunter spread his arms wide and welcomed the crowd to a “great day.”

The hospital will open with 80 patient beds in private rooms and can expand that number within its 217,000 square feet of space. The facility will create 450 new family-wage jobs and offer a full range of medical care, including 24-hour emergency services. The hospital will connect to medical offices by a sky bridge. The entire campus is part of the Franciscan Health System, which includes hospitals and centers in Tacoma, Lakewood, Federal Way, and 35 medical clinics.

The blessing ceremony was conducted by Archbishop Alexander Brunett, from the Archdiocese of Seattle, dressed in full regalia (FHS is affiliated with Catholic Health Initiatives). He told the audience that the hospital is not a business but a ministry about the dignity of every human being.

“The health care ministry of St. Anthony’s is our faith expressed by reaching out to others and being part of a community,” he said. In this way, the ministry is acting as “a good steward of the blessings given to us.” Brunett led a processional through the assembly, including the jazz band, anointing all within reach with sprinkles of holy water. He concluded near the stage, where he anointed a long mound of dirt, from the building site, spread on a canvas carpet.


Once the blessing was received, Nichols declared St. Anthony’s officially open. First on her long list of gratitude was the salute to the Russell Family Foundation for pledging $1.5 million to help create a state-of-the-art outpatient cancer center on the campus of the new hospital. “This is one of the largest gifts St. Frances has ever received,” Nichols said.

The cancer center is named for Jane Russell, philanthropist, community activist, the late wife of business leader George Russell, and the aunt of Laure Nichols. Mrs. Russell, a Key Peninsula resident, chaired the St. Joseph Medical Center board of trustees.

“The center will feature radiation oncology, medical oncology and a host of integrative therapy and complimentary support services so people with cancer in our community can stay close to home and receive the finest care available,” Nichols said in a press release.

Also recognized for championing the hospital program were local political officials: late Sen. Bob Oke (who attended with his wife, Judy), Reps. Pat Lantz and Larry Seaquist, and Sen. Derek Kilmer.

Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee said, “In my 34 years (of political service), I have never seen a community get behind an effort like I’ve seen behind St. Anthony’s Hospital… It may take a village to raise a child. It certainly takes a community to raise a hospital.” While visiting, after the ceremony, Lee said, “In years from now, people won’t know about all the hard work to get it out here. It’s nice to see a facility that has such regional effects.”

Buses took guests to the building site for tours. They were met by Assistant Supervisor Tony Silva, site Superintendent Tim Larson, and giant scraper equipment moving dirt at the rate of nearly 20 yards at a time. “There are about 60 vehicles on the site, trucks coming and going,” Larson said. The project managers said plans are for the hospital and cancer center to open at the same time in early 2009.

Larson later admitted to having the idea that stole the show at the opening ceremony. A white construction hard hat was handed to the archbishop before he was given a shovel that would lift heaps of blessed dirt for photo ops. Printed clearly across the front of the hardhat was “Archbishop Brunett.” The archbishop’s regal miter headdress was removed. He stuck the hard hat firmly over his red beanie, took the shovel, and started digging. He didn’t stop until the last flash of the news’ cameras. He led the exit procession with a grin on his face.

St. Anthony’s Hospital is a first-class project from the ground up. Before the big equipment arrived for construction, local residents were invited to harvest vine maple, ferns and trillium. Lantz mentioned the event in her speech and thanked the administrators for their consideration toward preservation. “They know how to share a vision. They know we care about our beautiful and unique environment,” she said.

The Franciscan Health System, the builder of the hospital, has recently been honored at the state and national level. The organization received the 2007 Washington State Quality Award as a model of business quality and performance. This is an award that requires a rigorous application, examination and analysis process. In addition, the Franciscan organization is ranked No. 8 on Verispan’s Top 100 list of the most efficient and best-performing health care networks in the United States. (Verispan is an independent health care research and information company.)