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Positive changes propel Valley hospital

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SNOQUALMIE - The last six months have been a period of transition for the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, but it has started laying a foundation that can hopefully be built on in years to come, employees said.

With new doctors coming aboard, new equipment being put into service and the first surgery scheduled for next month, interim superintendent Rodger McCollum said there is a lot to be excited about at the hospital.

"There will be no compromise at any level of care," he said.

Last year was one of the hardest for the hospital, which had already been closed twice before due to financial problems since it first opened. Last November, a broken boiler caused the hospital to temporarily shut down and a weekend with no directive to boil water during an E. coli outbreak caused facility and communication issues to surface. Jeff Lyle, the superintendent who had overseen getting the hospital reopened after being closed for a second time, resigned in December and was replaced by Alan MacPhee, the chief financial officer under Lyle.

MacPhee, acting as interim superintendent while the board began its search for a permanent replacement, spent a couple of months working to get the hospital repaired and its equipment updated. He left in May for another job.

McCollum, a native of North Bend, was brought in by the hospital board on an interim basis to continue the hospital's recovery from last winter. He said one of the steps to recovery has been the hiring of hospitalist Dr. Kimberly Witkop, who will also act as medical director for the hospital. Witkop's appointment follows a trend in health care for physicians to send their patients to hospital-based doctors called hospitalists when they need more acute care outside of their primary care facilities.

Witkop's experience in both large and small hospitals gave her perspective on where she wanted to be. She once worked at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, and later at a community campus for Virginia Mason in Federal Way. Witkop, who grew up in a small town in Missouri, said she learned that smaller hospitals better utilized her skills and personality.

"At a community hospital your obligation is to the patients," Witkop said. "At a larger hospital, it's more about the business. You have a different mission statement."

Witkop will be able to use the new MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT scan services the hospital started offering this week. The hospital is planning to have its first surgery next month, an eye procedure, and will be working with Dr. Brian Duvall of Snoqualmie Valley Eye Care in North Bend to provide optometry care. McCollum has been talking to the Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) about reactivating the helicopter pad on the campus.

The hospital will also be working to get its urgent-care facility transformed into a full-fledged emergency room. Like the present urgent-care facility, the emergency room will be staffed 24/7. To be an official emergency room, however, the facility must meet federal and state guidelines. If and when the emergency room opens, it will be a Level V trauma center, the lowest level of emergency care that's able to treat minor injuries and stabilize patients before they are transported to another facility. McCollum said upgrading the urgent care facility to an emergency room is a good direction for the hospital to go in.

"It's good medicine [to have an emergency room]," McCollum said.

McCollum said he believes there is still a place for the hospital in the Valley. With expansion plans in Issaquah, Swedish Medical Center and Overlake Hospital Medical Center are both looking to expand their reach on the Eastside. It is unlikely both would be built since, in order to open, each would need a certificate of need granted by the state.

The hospital has had a relationship in the past with Overlake, which has supplied various administrative services. McCollum said the hospital has been talking with Overlake again about the possibilities of working with them, but he stressed the independence of the hospital. Witkop also said the hospital will remain independent, dedicated to its patient base and committed to setting the bar high for patient care.

"We have set the standard to perform at a national level of care, not a standard level of care," Witkop said.

One last item of business for the hospital will be the position of superintendent. McCollum is the interim superintendent but he is also a candidate for the permanent position. He said the hospital board plans to make a decision regarding the superintendent position in the next 30 to 60 days.

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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