State says hospital is needed on San Juan Island; property purchase, site annexation are next

The proposed site of Peace Island Medical Center. The public will access the medical center from San Juan Valley Road; the medical center will have emergency access to Friday Harbor Airport.  - San Juan Community Hospital Committee
The proposed site of Peace Island Medical Center. The public will access the medical center from San Juan Valley Road; the medical center will have emergency access to Friday Harbor Airport.
— image credit: San Juan Community Hospital Committee

Washington state Department of Health officials have determined there is a need for a critical access hospital on San Juan Island.

They have issued a certificate of need — a 28-page report and nine-page appendix — a critical step in efforts to build a hospital here. Next: Proponents will complete their fund-raising, the purchase of the property will be completed and design of the new hospital, proposed near the airport, will begin.

The hospital, to be named Peace Island Medical Center, is expected to open in 2012.

“We’re excited to now begin the next phase of this project, during which we’ll again seek the guidance and wisdom of the community in the final planning and facility design work," PeaceHealth CAO Jim Barnhart said in a press release. "We’re appreciative of the State of Washington Department of Health and their thorough review and approval of this project.”

Lenore Bayuk, chairwoman of San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1, which contracted with PeaceHealth to build and operate a hospital here, said, “This is another big step forward for this project. The community has really stood behind this effort, and their collective voice was well received by the state Department of Health. There is tremendous need and opportunity for increasing access and providing for the long-term health care needs of hospital district residents and island visitors. We’re excited to see the new medical center and hospital start to take shape.”

PeaceHealth senior vice president Peter Adler said the Department of Health's analyses leading to the certificate of need "confirmed why PeaceHealth and the San Juan community came together in the first place – to meet the community’s need for enhanced local health care services and increased access to care for all island residents and visitors. When we were first invited into this discussion with the San Juan Island community, our focus was on what could be done to help serve community health care needs and to improve the long-term health and quality of life for islanders. It was a shared vision from the first day forward.”

Tom Cable, co-chairman of the San Juan Community Hospital Committee, a local group that led the initial exploration of options for a new hospital, added, “This confirms, formally, the need we’ve seen for so long to improve the health care facilities and services available on our island.”

Peace Island Medical Center will be owned and operated by PeaceHealth, a regional health system that owns St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham as well as other health care facilities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

The San Juan County Public Hospital District Commission, which operates Inter Island Medical Center and San Juan EMS, voted 5-0 March 18, 2009 to give PeaceHealth authority to build and operate a hospital on San Juan Island for 50 years. The commission assigned governance of the hospital to a governing board to be appointed by PeaceHealth; the governing board takes over when the hospital opens and Inter Island Medical Center closes.

PeaceHealth will receive more than $1 million a year — about $60 million over the life of the contract — in local property tax revenues to subsidize health care.

In light of declining Medicare reimbursements for fee-for-service clinics – service at IIMC is reimbursed at a doctor’s visit rate – and the fact that islanders must travel to the mainland for many services, commissioners said they saw no alternative to the PeaceHealth agreement other than to raise property taxes.

According to the contract approved in March, PeaceHealth will bear two-thirds of the cost of buying land for and building the hospital, estimated at $29.8 million. One-third of the cost will be raised philanthropically by the San Juan Community Hospital Committee.

Property taxes now paid to the hospital district will be passed on to PeaceHealth to subsidize healthcare services.

PeaceHealth will build an EMS facility at the new hospital and sell it to the hospital district, which will presumably use proceeds from the current Inter Island Medical Center property. PeaceHealth will be responsible for all financial liability of the hospital.

PeaceHealth signed a purchase and sale agreement for a 22-acre parcel of land for the hospital in July 2009.

Charles Anderson, a member of the San Juan Community Hospital Committee, told the Friday Harbor Port Commission on Jan. 13 that $6 million in philanthropy has been raised since June and he expects the remainder to be raised in spring.

Addressing port-related concerns:

-- Anderson said the hospital doesn’t expect to be affected by noise from the airport. “Airport noise will be mitigated in the construction of the hospital,” he said.

-- The hospital will want emergency access to the airport on Franklin Drive. Public access to the hospital will be on San Juan Valley Road.

-- The hospital will connect to the town sewer system behind Island Air’s hangar, on airport property, but doing so will require an easement from the port.

-- Annexation is expected to take two to three months. The site is outside town limits but within the town’s urban growth area.

-- PeaceHealth proposes paying for the costs of upgrading the pumps at the town’s water tank at Spring Street and Marguerite Place, to improve water pressure. The hospital will use the amount of water used by 22 homes.

Expanded services, 24/7 care
Services that will be provided at Peace Island Medical Center: Outpatient surgery, chemotherapy, cardiology, diagnostics and imaging, gastroenterology, oncology, rheumatology, and treatment for body injuries and neurological degenerative disorders.

Patients will able to stay in Peace Island for observation and short-term care after surgeries. There will be 10 hospital beds.

Inpatient surgeries will still be referred to mainland hospitals. Heart attack and stroke patients will still be taken to mainland hospitals. Babies will still be born on the mainland.

The medical center will be about 42,242 square feet, including 24,492 square feet of clinic space for doctors and specialists. Inpatient and outpatient space will comprise 14,250 square feet; the emergency department would comprise 3,500 square feet. The staff will grow from 25.3 full-time equivalents to 44.5.

PeaceHealth has already been at work on San Juan Island. A newly renovated mammogram imaging facility, retrofitted to provide the island’s first digital mammography, was installed in August 2009 at Inter Island Medical Center. The mammography facilities are operated by Mount Baker Imaging, a joint venture of St. Joseph Hospital and Northwest Radiologists, both of Bellingham.


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