WhidbeyHealth seeking $20 million loan

Public meeting set for March 21

WhidbeyHealth wants to apply for a $20 million low-interest loan from the USDA Rural Health loan program to finance long overdue infrastructure in its original building and to pay for cost overruns of its new wing.

Information about the loan will be presented at 2 p.m., Wednesday, March 21 in the cafeteria of WhidbeyHealth Medical Center. Public comment will be accepted at the meeting.

The loan would finance infrastructure upgrades, such as the heating and cooling system of the hospital’s original building, a redesign of the main lobby and to pay for construction overruns of the new wing, CEO Geri Forbes said during the hospital board’s monthly meeting.

A $60,000 bonus for Forbes was also approved Monday by the Whidbey Island Public Hospital District Board of Commissioners after it returned from an executive session.

The bonus is in addition to Forbes $279,000 annual salary and is based on meeting goals set by the board, but never shared with the public.

The annual bonus is part of the contract negotiated when Forbes was hired in early 2015. Last year she received a $70,000 bonus.

“Geri has been a Godsend to this hospital and community,” hospital district Commissioner Ron Wallin said during an interview. “She’s done so much.”

Forbes oversees about 800 employees and all the medical services of WhidbeyHealth, including the medical center and seven clinics. Assembling an impressive administrative team, keeping the hospital’s operating budget balanced and overseeing the new wing’s construction were among cited accomplishments.

Wallin pointed out WhidbeyHealth should be compared to other, larger critical access systems or hospital districts because of the quantity and scope of services offered by the public hospital.

Construction cost overruns are becoming the new normal, some board members pointed out when discussing the USDA loan proposal.

Seattle’s building boom means there’s fierce competition for construction crews and it results in continuing escalation of prices, Forbes said. The $30-million-plus million wing and additional renovation went over budget by about $3 million, she said.

This fall, the hospital opened a new inpatient wing with 39 single rooms and birthing suites.

Renovation also began to better accommodate surgical patients and critical care patients.

The two-story, 60,000-square-foot expansion, financed with a $50 million bond approved by voters in 2013, costs property owners an estimated 32.2 cents per $1,000 assessed property value over 25 years.

The USDA rural loan program is a federal program that provides affordable funding to develop essential community facilities in rural areas with no more than 20,000 residents, according to its website. It’s available to public bodies, tribes and community-based nonprofit corporations and is aimed at health care, education and emergency services.

Making required electrical panel modifications and expanding the hospital’s emergency department could also be financed with the USDA loan, Forbes said.

“We’ve already had site visits from USDA and if we apply in April, we hope to get the funds this summer,” Forbes said.

Any loan request would have to be approved by the Whidbey Island Public Hospital District Board of Commissioners that oversees the health care system.

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