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Finally, care close to home for Gig Harbor residents

Post by Kim Bradford on March 16, 2009 at 7:52 pm with No Comments »
March 16, 2009 7:52 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The opening of St. Anthony Hospital today represents a triumph of community will and creative problem-solving.

If it is, as some say, that nothing worth doing is easy, then St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor has proved itself worthwhile several times over.

The hospital, which opens today, is the product of a 25-year community campaign to bring acute-care services to the residents of Gig Harbor, the Key Peninsula and south Kitsap County. As far back as 1984, community activists were pressing hospital organizations to take a closer look at the Peninsula’s medical needs.

Franciscan Health System adopted that fight as its own in 2003 when the health care nonprofit announced plans to build Gig Harbor’s first hospital.

In doing so, Franciscan committed itself to a rigorous, months-long process of obtaining a "certificate of need" from the state. The state Health Department, which carefully weighs supply against demand and works to prevent inefficient duplication in health care services, doesn’t grant certificates easily.

Franciscan officials were able to make a strong case that the Gig Harbor area was one of the most underserved areas of the state. The closest hospital was in Tacoma, across a traffic-snarled highway and bridge that could make the 11-mile trip seem like an eternity.

Even without backups, the trip over the bridge strained Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula emergency medical resources. Crews made thousands of ambulance runs to Tacoma every year, putting them frequently out of pocket for other emergencies.

In 2004, over the objections of two competing hospital organizations, St. Anthony became the second truly new hospital the state has approved for construction since the mid-1980s. But the battle didn’t end there.

Bulldozers were ready to roll when Gig Harbor city officials came to the belated realization that traffic growth near the hospital site in North Gig Harbor was off the charts. They prescribed some $40 million worth of road improvements and an environmental impact study, which could have delayed the hospital up to two years.

Diligent work by Franciscan and city officials gradually resolved the problem. The Legislature lent a hand by granting rare authority for the city to use a portion of the sales taxes generated in the hospital’s immediate area to finance road improvements.

Three years later, the long wait is over. What was originally conceived as a $94 million, 112-bed project is now a $160 million, 80-bed hospital packed with the latest technology and patient care practices.

St. Anthony’s opening represents the addition of 500 jobs in an economy that sorely needs them. More importantly, it represents priceless peace of mind for Peninsula residents who finally have comprehensive medical care close to home.

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