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Surgery wing to reopen

Starting Dec. 14, the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital will once again offer a surgery program to the residents of the Valley.

The hospital's surgery wing has been vacant since 1996, the last time a surgery was performed there. For about a year, hospital officials have had a goal to restart the surgery program.

"We've done a few months' worth of cataract surgery in that time," said Rodger McCollum, hospital CEO. "We got to the point that we felt confident enough to flush out the entire surgery program."

A number of specialists who have recently set up clinics at the hospital were the real impetus for the program, McCollum said.

One of those specialists is Dr. Stephen Slack, who specializes in gynecology. Slack used to work at the hospital in the late 1980s and early 1990s and said he had good memories of the hospital. When he heard the hospital was considering restarting its surgery program, he was excited to be a part of it.

"This was really needed," he said. "It's way past the time for this community to have a surgery wing."

Joseph Ference is the operating room manager, and he said the wing was completely redone in anticipation of the reopening. The hospital purchased new anesthesia machines and life support monitors and had work done on the air conditioning system, flooring, lighting and other aspects of the wing before it was inspected and approved by the state.

The hospital's chief financial officer, Don Galer, said, "It took us some amount of funds to get the rooms up to operating standards."

Galer said it's not easy to pinpoint how much money was spent getting the wing up to par because the hospital did quite a bit of electrical and reflooring work throughout. He said the instrumentation required for each type of surgery is anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000. There will be five types of surgery offered initially, so the hospital has invested about $150,000. The expected revenue for next year is in excess of $2 million.

"The surgeon brings the skill," Galer said, "which multiplies the value of that instrumentation several times."

The hospital's classification as a Critical Access Hospital (CAH) played a key role in getting the surgery wing up and running, Ference said. The federal designation, which is administered by the state, allows the district to receive a higher level of payment from Medicare and Medicaid than it received previously. The hospital received its letter of approval as a CAH on Nov. 15 and officially became a CAH on Dec. 1.

"It essentially gives us more dollars," Ference said.

Ference said a lot of patients who have come through the emergency room have asked about surgical services.

"The community can rest assured that their money is well spent," he said. "We're trying to develop a hospital that they've asked for so they don't have to go outside this area. The providers we're bringing in are top notch."

Those providers include specialists in ear, nose and throat; gastroenterology; gynecology; orthopedics; oncology; plastic surgery; and general surgery. All of those specialties but gastroenterology and oncology are launching their surgery programs immediately.

"They are all very good, well-respected surgeons," Ference said.

Last week, the hospital was still ordering the last of the equipment for the new wing. McCollum said the surgeons gave their preferences on supplies and that everything would be ready to go by the opening.

The operating room will run all the time, but there will be different specialties available each day. The specialists each have a primary practice elsewhere and spend one day a week at the hospital. Most of them are also available on an as-needed basis for emergency surgeries.

Chief nursing officer Mike Kinman has also been hard at work to get the surgery program up and running. He said he did a lot of work developing the programs outside of the surgery it affects, like in-patient care, the emergency room and the pharmacy.

"It's not just surgery; it's everything else," he said. "The effort put into it to have it done right from the beginning is just phenomenal. It will be a good program from the day the doors open. We're really well-positioned to step right into this."

McCollum said this offering will keep people from having to drive to other hospitals outside the Valley.

"This fulfills our mission as a public hospital," he said. "It rounds out our whole service line and is a real opportunity for us to provide as many services here as we can for the people who live here."

And, according to Ference, the hospital set the operating room up in record time.

"We transitioned from eye surgery to general surgery in three months, which is unheard of," he said.

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