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Snoqualmie Valley Hospital plans to protest Overlake and Swedish plans

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SNOQUALMIE - The Snoqualmie Valley Hospital will be making an argument in coming weeks that there are enough hospitals on the Eastside.

Citing a need for additional health care on the Eastside, Overlake Hospital Medical Center and Swedish Medical Center are expanding their services into Issaquah. The Snoqualmie hospital, however, thinks there are already enough services to go around. With its own facility just minutes from Issaquah, the administration of the Snoqualmie hospital has said additional services on the Eastside would cause the cost of health care to go up. The hospital plans to make that case to a state board next month when it will protest the granting of a certificate of need that is required for either Overlake or Swedish to build a new hospital facility.

"Neither side has made a compelling case to build a new hospital," said Rodger McCollum, superintendent of the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital.

Bellevue-based Overlake and Seattle-based Swedish are both opening new facilities and both are vying for the chance to build a hospital, all in Issaquah. Last week, Overlake opened its urgent-care campus on 226th Place Southeast. It will not handle high-trauma emergencies but will have on-site imaging and lab services.

"It [urgent care] is for calls that people feel OK driving themselves to," said Dr. Eric Shipley, one of the lead physicians at the new urgent care facility. "We don't want ambulances."

Swedish will be opening a free-standing emergency room on March 1 just across town on Sammamish Parkway that will be able to handle a higher level of car than an urgent care facility. Dr. John Milne, an emergency physician who will be heading the new Issaquah emergency room, said it will have the latest and greatest in technology that will surpass the equipment at he hospital's Seattle campus, including rooms with "negative pressure" that can suck out potential airborne illnesses and a chamber that can help clean off patients infected with hazardous materials.

"It will be the most state-of-the-art facility in the region," Milne said.

Both Swedish and Overlake have even bigger plans for Issaquah. Next month, the state Department of Health will hear public comment on the certificate of need that is necessary for either to open a hospital. Presently, the nearest hospital for Issaquah is Overlake in Bellevue, which has the closest high-trauma emergency room, as well as the closest location for delivering babies. Overlake has plans to build a 120-bed hospital at one of three sites in Issaquah. The first choice for a location is close next to its new urgent care facility, another is in the Issaquah Highlands neighborhood and a third is at Issaquah Farms near the Sammamish Club. It would cost around $154 million and be built in two phases, with the first being completed in 2009.

Swedish wants to do even more and has proposed a 175-bed hospital that would cost anywhere from $197-$207 million. It would be located at one of two locations, either in the Issaquah Highlands neighborhood or off Newport Way. Should that be approved, it would have its first phase completed in 2009, as well.

The problem with both plans, according to McCollum, is that neither hospital is needed. McCollum, with the approval of the hospital's board of directors, will present testimony at the certificate of need hearing that will contest that neither Swedish nor Overlake has made a good case for an additional hospital in Issaquah and that allowing either to build one would cause the cost of care to go up. The present Overlake hospital and the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital are both within 10 miles of Issaquah, so no one would have to go far to get to a hospital, McCollum said. Also, since the hospitals are planning to spend between $157-$200 million on their new facilities, McCollum said each would have to raise the cost of care in order to recoup the investment.

"It just doesn't make sense," McCollum said.

Kevin Brown, the vice president of Swedish who is leading that hospital's foray into the Eastside, said there is a need for additional care on the Eastside given the area's prodigious growth. He said that the combined population of Issaquah and Sammamish is now four times that of Bellevue in the 1960s, when the construction of Overlake was approved, and that the new emergency room alone can expect to see 14,000-15,000 patients in 2005.

Officials from both Overlake and Swedish said a hospital in Issaquah would be beneficial to the Valley since it would bring more specialists to the Eastside and, in particular, the Valley. Doctors not willing to come all the way out to Snoqualmie would be more likely to do so if they were already coming out to Issaquah.

Whatever happens in Issaquah, the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital is planning to grow. In the past year, the hospital solidified its administration and has been working to build up its working relationship with Overlake. Overlake moved its geriatric psychiatric unit to Snoqualmie and McCollum said that while the hospital will be protesting Overlake's plans to build in Issaquah, the two will continue to work on bringing services to the Valley.

After the hearing the state can decide on one of three options. It can grant both hospitals the approval to build, grant one hospital the approval to build or grant neither hospital the approval to build. A decision is expected to come sometime in May.

* The public hearing for the certificate of need for both Swedish and Overlake's plans for a new hospital will be at 10 a.m. Monday, March 7, at the Trinity Lutheran College Auditorium, 4221 228th Ave. S.E., Issaquah.

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