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Swedish and Overlake look to open Issaquah hospitals

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ISSAQUAH - As water dripped from the corners of a rain-soaked tent last week, Swedish Medical Center Vice President Kevin Brown officially unveiled the group's plans to build a free-standing emergency room in a business park near Lake Sammamish State Park.

The high-tech $20-million facility will boast a cutting-edge "bringing the services to the patient" design - there's not a traditional waiting room, but rather individual rooms that can accommodate family members - that will have laboratory facilities and a slew of in-demand equipment such as a CT Scan and MRI.

If all goes to plan, the emergency room facility will be operating by February, and construction on a new 175-bed hospital in Issaquah could come in 2009.

Combine that with an Overlake Hospital Medical Center plan to build a 120-bed, $203-million hospital in Issaquah - the first phase would be built by 2009 - and it's easy to realize that the area east of Bellevue is the latest being targeted by the area's big names in the healthcare field.

After submitting the Overlake plan to the state for approval in August, Ken Graham, president and CEO of the organization, said pinpointing the area east of Bellevue for expansion was not a difficult task.

"In order to meet the health demands of the growing communities, it is logical to add capacity in Issaquah and Sammamish where close to 20 percent of our patients reside. Overlake will provide that additional capacity within the next five to seven years."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Washington State Office of Financial Management, Snoqualmie ranks second in the state in greatest percentage of population growth at 213.3 percent. From 2000-2004, Snoqualmie grew from 1,631 to 5,110. Issaquah ranks fifth on the list at 38.3 percent. Issaquah grew from 11,212 in 2000 to 15,510 in 2004.

For Swedish, the freestanding emergency room facility - called such because no patients can be admitted, unlike a hospital - will be one of the most technologically advanced facilities in the area.

"Our plan is to bring service close to home," said Brown.

With two major players in the hospital field moving closer to the Valley, will the groups look to take business from the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital or try to work in conjunction with the group that continues to grow after stumbling a couple of times in the past 10 years?

According to both Swedish and Overlake officials, working with the Snoqualmie Valley will benefit all parties involved.

Darin Libby, administrator for the Overlake Hospital Medical Center Issaquah project, said his company has already been working with the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital and will continue to forge partnerships. In addition to Overlake already handling the Valley hospital's lab duties, a deal is in the works to have Overlake oversee the behavioral health unit at the hospital.

Although the two are competitors, Libby said, Overlake knows there are areas where joint ventures can benefit both groups.

"In five years we expect [Snoqualmie Valley Hospital] to be a thriving community hospital," said Libby.

Although no official deals have been agreed upon, Swedish officials say working with the Valley hospital is part of its master plan.

"We want to help that facility succeed," said Brown.

Brown said both Snoqualmie and Swedish can benefit by working together, especially when it comes to specialists. With a smaller patient load, such as the one at Snoqualmie Hospital, specialists often are less likely to make a trip out to see patients. By combining efforts, Swedish and Snoqualmie can approach the specialists as a group. Increasing the number of patients the specialists can see, Brown said, increases the likelihood they will come out to the Valley.

Although both Swedish and Overlake have submitted applications for a certificate of need to the State Department of Health, that agency will ultimately decide if the hospitals will be built and just how big they will be. The first public hearing regarding the issue will be held in the fall.

Travis Peterson can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at travis.peterson@valleyrecord.com.

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