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Issaquah hospital hearing starts

The question of whether the residents of the greater Issaquah area need a full-service hospital went before a state administrative law judge on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

The state Department of Health last May turned down the applications of both Overlake Hospital Medical Center and Swedish Medical Center to build a full-service hospital, even though many Issaquah residents, including Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger, support the idea.

The two hospitals appealed the state's denial of a certificate of need and their lawyers showed up Tuesday in Kent before Zimmie Caner, a law judge for the Department of Health. The four-day hearing moved to Auburn City Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 24, before returning to a health department office in Kent.

The state's evaluation of the applications concluded that a new hospital isn't needed and there wouldn't be a need for more hospital beds to serve the area for 12 years.

Under questioning from Assistant Attorney General Richard McCartan, Randall W. Huyck, the state analyst who denied the applications, defended both his methodology and conclusions.

Huyck said both applications led to similar surpluses. Issaquah is already served by Overlake in Bellevue, Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, Group Health's Eastside Hospital in Redmond and Snoqualmie Valley Hospital.

The closest of these is 11 miles from Issaquah; the farthest is 17. Huyck acknowledged there was a lot of local support for an Issaquah hospital but said a certificate of need doesn't recognize popularity.

The danger of siting a hospital improperly is that it might endanger the viability of nearby hospitals by taking their patients and thus hurting overall medical services, he said.

At the core of both hospitals' appeals is the state's controversial decision to count the 132 beds at Eastside Group Health's Hospital when calculating the number of beds in the area now and through 2025.

Group Health has said that it plans to close Eastside Hospital next year and move its acute-care patients to Overlake when the latter completes its new 80-bed tower.

Not counting Group Health's 132 beds past this year would reduce the bed surplus and could make both applications viable, Overlake and Swedish officials argued.

Under questioning by Peter Erlichmann, lead attorney for Swedish, Huyck acknowledged that in 2004 he did not count Group Health's 132 beds in approving an expansion by Evergreen in Kirkland.

Erlichmann referred to numerous occasions when Huyck and other Department of Health staffers knew of Group Health's plans to close or should have known of them. He questioned why the state used different standards for Evergreen and Swedish Medical Center's application.

Huyck said he had no assurance from Group Health that they would close their hospital. He acknowledged that he didn't contact Group Health to ask about their intentions.

Huyck was the first of an expected 11 witnesses scheduled to testify during the hearing. The judge is being asked to rule that there is a need for a new hospital and the applications would return to the state for another review. If she rules against the hospitals, the appeals most likely will end up in Superior Court.

Closing briefs for the hearing are due March 5 and the judge then has 45 days to make a ruling.

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