Hospital expansion goes to vote

"Whidbey General Hospital will ask voters in September for more money to improve health care facilities.The commissioners of the public hospital district met in Freeland Monday and voted unanimously to proceed with a bond proposal.Trish Rose, publicist, said in a news release that revenues would assist in the financing of the major patient services expansion project scheduled to begin in early 2001.Property owners should not see a spike in their taxes, however. Doug Bishop, chief financial officer, said Friday that the hospital will seek approximately $4.5 million to $5 million.At present, the hospital is paying off bonds approved in past years. The total bond tax rate is about 26 cents per thousand. Bishop said roughly half of those bonds will be retired in 2001. The new tax, if approved by voters, will be added on at that time.The other half of the original bonds will be paid off in 2009. By wrapping around the next tax, the total tax rate will stay level at about 26 cents per thousand, but with retirement put off until 2011.Bishop noted that the tax rate will decline as assessments increase through the years.The $5 million will be spent on expanding the outpatient cancer center and enlarging the emergency room. The ER is bursting at the seams, Bishop said. The cardiac rehabilitation area is also too small, he said, and is slated for expansion.In addition, room will be made to house an MRI machine inside the hospital. At present, the hospital shares an MRI with another hospital, and it is kept on a trailer in front of the hospital. Also, a new hospital entry and admitting area will be designed to reduce patient confusion and increase patient privacy.The expansion has been needed and planned for over the past two years as patient volumes have significantly increased, Rose said. The hospital traditionally comes to voters every eight to 10 years for what Rose termed patient care additions or remodeling projects. The last such bond election was in 1989.The hospital went to voters in 1998 with a levy especially for emergency services. It was approved and costs property owners an additional 37 cents per thousand. The next bond election is planned to coincide with the primary election on Sept. 19."

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