By Robert Born
I recently perused two Whidbey General Hospital master plans and the cost report for the May 17 bond proposal. Interestingly, the January 2008 schematic contained many of the same features as the current plan, but arranged around and mostly to the rear of the present patient wing. It had the current wing remaining a patient treatment area, though substantially reconfigured. Though costs were not made available, it must have been a less spendy option.
Instead, alternative designs were requested, resulting in plans for an entirely new wing, connected by corridors, to the south end of the hospital. The budget breakdown: $3.6 million for parking areas, $25.2 million for the new wing (minus medical equipment), and $4.6 million to convert the present patient wing to other uses, figures recently revised upward to $35 million. (Millions more go to design, engineering, consulting, permits, and medical equipment.)
My take is that, like the viaduct replacement plan for downtown Seattle, the most expensive and grandiose options were invariably chosen. Isn’t that what happens whenever someone wants to spend somebody else’s money? While building an entirely new wing will cause the least disruption during construction, a high price is exacted. First, converting existing patient rooms and treatment areas to other uses will cost millions. Additionally, the new wing would be on the outskirts of the campus, rather than at its current optimal centralized site. The 2008 plan appears to be the better and more cost-effective design.
The rejected plan even included six beds in double-occupancy rooms. Why can’t there be lower-cost options for those who can’t afford premium accommodations? It’s like an airline offering only first-class seating. And though proponents failed to tell us, the 368-bed tower that Everett’s nationally acclaimed Providence Regional Hospital is opening in June features both single and double patient rooms.
I examined 2007 studies regarding the hospital’s condition, but saw little evidence that current patient rooms were falling apart, though they are certainly cramped. Yes, more insulation is needed, the aluminum-frame windows aren’t optimum, and some pipes are rusty, but even the bond’s plan is not to demolish the wing. Why can’t one bed simply be removed to convert many of these rooms to private rooms? I also saw little justification for the family birth center being totally moved. It’s another seemingly wasteful measure.
The 26-year-long levy is questionable. Though it gives the appearance of being less “taxing,” persons unborn will someday be paying for this choice. Voters have been provided with inadequate or misleading information throughout this one-sided campaign. What does half of a double room cost now, and what will a new room cost? Will all the vacated areas be efficiently utilized? Does this mean the $10 million planned improvement for the South Whidbey facility is shelved?
This plan has astutely, some would say deceptively, been marketed as being all about the dignity, privacy and spaciousness of patient rooms, but that could have been achieved at a third of this cost. Non-necessities fill this bloated wish list. Voters truly concerned about out-of-control health care costs should demand a re-do.
Robert Born lives in Greenbank.