Hospital seeks to retain tax for expansion

"Photo: Whidbey General Hospital community relations coordinator Trish Rose displays a model of the hospital as it would look if voters approve a $5 bond in September.Whidbey General Hospital officials say they don't want more money from local taxpayers. They just want to continue the same level of funding taxpayers have been providing since the hospital's opening 30 years ago.In return, they say, local residents will get a bigger, better and more efficient hospital to meet the needs of a growing population.But it will be voters who have the final say when they head to the polls Sept. 19 to cast their ballots for or against a $5 million bond issue for expansion and remodeling of the publicly-owned hospital.The new bond will replace an expiring bond already in place. It will continue funding of about $1.2 million annually until the year 2011. To do so, property owners will pay 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in taxes.What will they get for their money?For one thing, they'll know where to go, says Trish Rose, head of Whidbey General Hospital's community relations. She said the current complex has two main entrances and lots of winding corridors. We get feedback constantly that it's a confusing hospital, said Rose. Having a single entrance will make it simpler.The new proposal will consolidate corridors and provide a well-defined entry with a central admissions desk and large lobby.Creating a better use of space is a key element of the proposal. Currently the hospital is made more confusing because different care facilities are spread out to use whatever space is available.Mammography is in a patient room, ultrasound is in an OB room, MRI is outside in a trailer, said the hospital's chief financial officer Doug Bishop. In ER we frequently have patients in every room and in the hall because we're backed up. In order to put things back together and provide more room for patients, programs and new equipment, the bond proposal calls for the hospital to get bigger. Under the proposal, about 6,000 square feet of new space will be added to the front of the current complex. This will be occupied by an emergency room complex, a surgery waiting area and a medical ambulatory care center. The medical ambulatory care or MAC unit sees patients who require regular hospital care but do not need to be confined to a bed. Patients undergoing chemotherapy, blood transfusions, wound therapy or diabetic treatment use the facility. Relocating such high-demand services into new quarters will allow other hospital services to move and expand. About 20,000 square feet of the existing hospital will be remodeled if the bond passes.The hospital's cardiac rehabilitation facility is one area planned for growth. This unit treats patients recovering from heart disease such as angina or heart attack. During the last five years, demand for cardiac rehabilitation services has increased by 150 percent, according to hospital records. One of the key elements of rehabilitation is monitored exercise. The new hospital expansion proposal includes more room for exercise equipment and a small, indoor walking track.Another area set for expansion is diagnostic imaging. Hospitals use various forms of picture-taking these days to diagnose problems without having to resort to exploratory surgery. From the old, familiar X-ray to ultrasound, nuclear imaging and computerized tomography or CT scan, demand for such services at Whidbey General has grown by 37 percent during the past five years. One type of diagnostic imaging that will particularly benefit from bond passage will be magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. MRI equipment is quite large and produces cross-section pictures of the body. Whidbey General currently leases MRI equipment which visits the hospital three times per week in a large trailer. Bishop said it would be cheaper for the hospital to buy their own MRI system but first they need a place to put it. Equipment purchases are not included in the bond proposal, but Bishop said such purchases could be made through other means.That's also the case with one more proposed structure in the hospital's expansion plans. Officials want to construct a special quiet room where patients or families can find privacy or a place to talk with counselors or clergy. The quiet room is not part of the proposed bond. Officials plan to seek community support to pay for the facility. The hospital receives about 5 percent of the total property tax money collected by the county. The vast majority of property tax goes to pay for schools. County roads, government operations, towns and cities, fire districts and libraries all take a share equal to or greater than the hospital.For more information on the Sept. 19 bond issue visit the hospital's Web site at "

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