Whidbey General tries to keep up with competition

A crew works on the new 12-story $500 million tower being built at Providence Everett Regional Medical Center. The new tower is scheduled to open in June. - Courtesy of Providence Everett Regional Medical Center
A crew works on the new 12-story $500 million tower being built at Providence Everett Regional Medical Center. The new tower is scheduled to open in June.
— image credit: Courtesy of Providence Everett Regional Medical Center

Even if a proposed $50 million expansion becomes a reality, Whidbey General Hospital is facing stiff competition from nearby hospitals.

Several off-island hospitals, which attract a significant number of Whidbey Island patients along with their insurance money, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into expanding and modernizing facilities.

The largest, most extensive project in the region finishes in June when Providence Everett Regional Medical Center opens a new tower that cost $500 million. Island Hospital in Anacortes and Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon both recently completed expensive expansions to include single-patient rooms, which is becoming the standard.

“I’m concerned we’re not offering the same level of care,” Whidbey General Hospital CEO Tom Tomasino, referring to surrounding hospitals. “I think our community deserves no less than what is being offered in other communities.”

Providence’s newest addition is 12 stories tall, houses 240 beds and contains one of the largest emergency rooms in the state. Spokeswoman Cheri Rossum said the extra space was absolutely needed. The hospital is almost always at capacity and it operates one of the busiest emergency departments around. More than 110,000 emergency room visits were made to Providence in Everett last year.

It also draws patients who might otherwise go to Whidbey General Hospital.  More than  1,900 islanders made more than 3,000 visits to Providence last year, Rossum said.

Whidbey General Hospital’s plans are a bit more modest. Officials are asking voters to approve a $50 million bond May 17 that would fund construction of a new wing on the south end of the hospital campus that would house 39 single-patient rooms.

Providence wasn’t the only nearby hospital to upgrade its facilities. Island Hospital, located in nearby Anacortes, completed a $40.5 million expansion in 2008.

Dennis Richards, Island Hospital spokesman, said the project was funded by a $30.5 million bond voters approved in 2004 by a 78 percent margin and an additional $10 million in funding from the hospital’s foundation. The money paid for construction of 31 single-patient rooms and, among other things, doubled the size of Island Hospital’s emergency room. Richards said the number of emergency room visits likewise doubled since the expansion was completed.

Like at Providence, a significant number of Whidbey Island residents receive treatment at Island Hospital. In 2009 and for the first half of 2010, 22 percent of the Island Hospital’s patients who needed a room had Whidbey Island addresses. In the first quarter of 2011, 15 percent of the hospital’s patients came from Whidbey Island, Richards said.

Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon completed a $92 million, 220,000 square foot expansion in 2007.

“It’s essentially a new hospital connected to the existing hospital,” hospital spokeswoman Kari Ranten said. To help pay for the project, Skagit County voters approved a $62.1 million bond in 2004. Its expansion included 137 single-patient rooms, a birthing center and an emergency room.

From October 2009 to September 2010, 307 people from Whidbey Island were admitted to Skagit Valley Hospital.

While acknowledging the growing competition, Tomasino said his staff’s commitment to patient care will help keep Whidbey General Hospital competitive in the future. Also, facilities are always a factor in trying to draw qualified doctors to Whidbey Island.

Whenever new physicians are considering taking a position on the island, they always ask when the hospital’s facilities will be modernized, Tomasino said. He hopes to be able to answer that question when the votes are counted on May 17.


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