Over a decade ago, islanders Tom Cable and his wife Barbara had the vision to create a rural hospital on San Juan. On Nov. 17, the PeaceHealth PeaceIsland hospital celebrated its tenth birthday.
“The hospital is designated as a Critical Access Hospital. This means it is a rural hospital with no more than 25 beds and the nearest acute hospital is 25-30 miles away,” explained Chief Administrative Officer Jack Estrada. Acute hospitals are for immediate but short-term care and are able to diagnose a wide variety of conditions, symptoms or injuries.
Unlike many Critical Access Hospitals, the emergency department at PeaceHealth Peace Island has certified physicians, according to Estrada. Typically CAH’s have several physicians who are not certified, but who work under one who is.
A majority of the emergencies are injuries, vehicle accidents in particular, with heart attacks and strokes following, Estrada said.
One of the biggest struggles has been coordinating transportation, especially through winter months. Over the last few years, through COVID, finding beds to transport patients has been a challenge as well.
In one day, for example, the emergency department caregivers needed to get a laboring mother to Island Hospital. The journey involved rushing to a ferry that needed to turn around and load the ambulance, drive her to the hospital, and turn around to catch the ferry back, when the Friday Harbor landing broke, meaning scrambling trying to get the doctor and staff back to the hospital where they were needed. A patient with cardiac arrest came in that afternoon, so they needed to quickly arrange air transport, requiring doctor accompaniment as well.
“The community may not know how resilient these caregivers are. They will do whatever it takes to help their patients,” Estrada said. “That the people here are committed to this community is one of the special things about this place. It is one of the reasons I came here.”
Several birthday celebrations were organized, including one to thank and honor the caregivers and volunteers.
“We have an incredible group of volunteers, engaged in the operation,” Anne Williams communications specialist for Peace Health said, and it was important to thank them as the entire PeaceHealth Peace Island family came together.
Over the last decade, Peace Health Peace Island service numbers include:
35,817 Emergency Department visits
1,575 patients admitted
133,203 clinic visits
17,661 chemotherapy infusions
16,934 CT scans
380,174 lab tests
14,719 outpatient rehab therapy sessions (new service in 2020)
159 orthopedic outpatient surgeries (new service in 2015)
356 general outpatient surgeries (new service in 2015)
Getting the hospital to where it is today has been a mix of emotions.
“It was really interesting, in the beginning, there were a bunch of new people plus pre-existing caregivers. We had to learn to come together and work out relationships,” Amber Linton, director of the Lab Department said. Linton came aboard early on, during the construction of the building. “It was new for patients too. There was excitement and trepidation, sad that the old clinic was going away yet excited for the services the new hospital could provide.”
The Cables, Linton said, spent all their vacation time visiting small hospitals across the country to get an idea of the best options for the island community. In an environmentally sustainable move, the wood that makes up the floor and moldings came from the island, most if directly from the property. It was milled locally as well. The offices and halls are decked with artwork created by island artists. A quiet room for private consultations or perhaps even the volunteer chaplain overlooks the courtyard.
Expertise and care went into designing each wing. Estrada, for example, designed the diagnostic wing. Estrada was one of many hospital directors that pitched in and used their knowledge to create a wing not only to be visually aesthetic for patients but to work in an efficient optimal way for caregivers.
“You don’t get the opportunity to design a hospital wing very often,” Estrada smiled.
The hospital contains five emergency rooms and ten in-patient rooms. Each room contains privacy drapes that can be easily sanitized and has a red alert button when it needs to be discarded.
The lab department is able to work closely with other departments, and even processes tests from other clinics.
“I worked in a lab that was in the basement and saw how interdepartmental strife can impact health care,” Linton said. “I wanted a culture of communication, working closely with nurses, and to see interdepartmental relationships flourish.”
As a result, patients are able to see results quickly, meaning treatment can be offered faster as well. That interconnectedness has also allowed the hospital to respond to rapidly growing needs.
“It is amazing to see the needs we can fill. I don’t know what we would have done in a situation like COVID without the hospital,” Linton said, adding that having the infrastructure to handle the additional population, including visitors, during the summer months as well.
For anyone interested in health care and caring for others, a number of entry-level positions are open, including in the lab department.
“It can be an exciting way to get involved,” Linton said. What she loves about PeaceHealth Peace Island is its origin story. A community coming together to complete a dream.