Whidbey General Hospital aim: 1 patient per room

Oak Harbor resident Charlotte Jensen shares a room at Whidbey General Hospital as Dr. Mike Picco and nurse Dawn Sellgren examine her. A bond voters will decide on next month would pay for an expansion that includes single-patient rooms. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor resident Charlotte Jensen shares a room at Whidbey General Hospital as Dr. Mike Picco and nurse Dawn Sellgren examine her. A bond voters will decide on next month would pay for an expansion that includes single-patient rooms.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

While a proposed new wing at Whidbey General Hospital will improve and modernize conditions, it won’t do much to increase capacity.

If voters give the go-ahead to a $50 million bond, the new wing will house 39 single-patient rooms, which would replace the 34 beds in double rooms currently available at the publicly owned hospital in Coupeville.

Hospital officials say the single patient rooms are a modern necessity to improve patient care, provide a healthier environment and better comply with strict new privacy regulations.

Currently two patients typically share a 210-square-foot room, which becomes crammed when doctors, nurses, aides, family members and equipment that comes from nearly 40 years of medical advancement is taken into account.

“It quickly becomes untenable in many situations and it isn’t what patients expect anymore,” spokesperson Trish Rose said.

Medical professionals are quick to point to the difficulties they encounter treating patients in rooms in the present double-bed situation, and they say single rooms give patients better control of their environment.

One problem concerns patients who need help being moved from bed, especially if the patient is too frail or too large to move on his or her own. The size of the current rooms makes it difficult to roll in equipment to lift patients. In fact, nurse Belinda Hawkins said that nurses have injured themselves in the past trying to move patients.

Rose said there are plans to better incorporate moving equipment into the new rooms, but such a project couldn’t be retrofitted in the current patient rooms.

Even something as important and as simple as sleep can be difficult in the double rooms.

“It terribly interferes with sleep,” physician’s assistant Tom York said of the rooms, especially when patients are admitted in the early hours in the morning. Contradictory sleep habits can also pose problems. He told of an instance where one patient in a room could only sleep with the television blaring, preventing the second person from getting a good night’s sleep.

“You can’t get better if you can’t sleep,” York said.

Nurse Jeannie Hucko said having two people in a room can inadvertently cause the spread of illnesses and infections. For example, during the recent H1N1 flu outbreak, a patient could have been exposed to the virus before a diagnosis was discovered.

The single rooms, once considered a hospital luxury, have generated controversy among critics of the proposed $50 million project. Voters will decide May 17 whether to approve bonds needed to fund the project. The proposal has to pass by a 60 percent supermajority. It calls for a 30,000-square-foot wing. Construction would last between 18 and 20 months.

Supporters say private hospital rooms are no longer just for the wealthy: They’re becoming the standard whenever a hospital updates its facilities.

Island Hospital in Anacortes and Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon both recently completed upgrades that include single patient rooms. Providence Hospital in Everett will soon open a new tower, which includes private rooms, on its Colby Campus.

Cassie Sauer, Washington State Hospital Association spokeswoman, said single-patient rooms is absolutely the trend in hospital construction. She said patients and doctors want single-patient rooms. She reiterated that they allow staff to better combat the spread of infection and adhere to privacy regulations.

Whidbey General Hospital CEO Tom Tomasino said single patient rooms are now written into design guidelines that officials have to follow. Those guidelines are used in accrediting new buildings.

Recently enacted federal privacy regulations were one of the reasons Island Hospital in Anacortes made the switch to private rooms. Island Hospital spokesman Dennis Richards said a curtain between beds does not provide enough privacy protections. A doctor talking to a patient about a cancer diagnosis, for example, would literally be a violation of federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA, regulations.

Tomasino stressed that the hospital renovation is driven by the desire and need to improve patient care and satisfaction.

“The hospital is the most valuable asset the community owns and reinvesting in it is a reinvestment in the community,” Tomasino said.

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