Opinion

St. Francis Hospital is the backbone of our community

By Tom Pierson, Federal Way Chamber CEO

All eyes are on the horizon downtown waiting to see the first tell-tale signs of the highly-publicized expansion.

When did the first crane arrive? When will the first steel beam be hoisted? What date will go down as the day our future — and landscape — was forever altered?

The answer: November 2007.

That’s when the first steel beam weighing nearly 53,000 pounds was raised. Since then, many have followed — laying the foundation for floors that were poured around Thanksgiving and walls that began taking shape in December.

How did you overlook a steel beam that’s 78 feet wide? You were looking in the wrong direction. A slight shift of perspective, and you would have seen our community hospital once again taking the lead in planning Federal Way’s future.

Once again, because this isn’t the first time St. Francis Hospital has been on the forefront of our urban development. Kemper Freeman, CEO of Kemper Development Company and Bellevue Square fame, is a fourth-generation developer whose family has been synonymous with the Eastside community’s development and growth. He states the very first thing his family invested in was a hospital.

Luckily, we had our own visionaries like the Clergets, King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer and other key influencers who realized that if Federal Way was going to be a contender as a regional leader, it needed a hospital.

In 1987, St. Francis Hospital was completed, and our future path as a city was set into motion.

Today, when businesses consider relocating to Federal Way, the first two questions asked are regarding our education and health care systems. Both are highly ranked not only in Washington, but throughout the country.

Still, much like our city itself, after 21 years, St. Francis hasn’t been able to keep up with the growing demands of a growing community. The first of many much-needed revisions is taking shape in the form of a new Critical Care Unit (the home of that first crane over two months ago).

Improvements to the emergency department began in earnest last month. This project will bring five additional exam rooms and a new waiting area to what is now one of the South Sound’s busiest emergency departments, serving more than 45,000 a year.

These are only baby steps. St. Francis Hospital is very busy to say the least, and neither of these projects address the obvious bed shortage the facility faces. Regardless of these improvements, the total bed count will remain 110 — which is the exact same number of units the hospital opened with in 1987.

In 2006 alone, St. Francis had to transfer approximately 800 patients from the emergency department to other regional hospitals including St. Joseph Medical Center, Auburn Regional Medical Center, and even hospitals in Seattle and beyond because of capacity issues.

St. Francis filed a Certificate of Need with the state Department of Health in July 2006, asking for an additional 36 beds and an expanded nursery. Nearly a year later they were approved, but unfortunately that decision was appealed by Auburn Regional Medical Center. A judge will listen to arguments at a hearing in March, and is expected to render a decision sometime before September.

I am sure the majority of people don’t give much thought to the history of the hospital, much less consider its future when they arrive at its doors. More than likely they are preoccupied with the event that brought them there — be it an emergency or a celebration of new life. Still, there is plenty of time for reflection on the drive over to Harborview once they find out that loved one was transferred due to a critical lack of rooms.

Let’s face it, the so-called health of St. Francis Hospital is critical to all of us here in Federal Way and beyond. I for one am hoping hospital turf wars, bureaucratic red tape and inadequate/out-of-date state agency processes do not get in the way of the backbone of our community getting the much-needed help it deserves in its hour of need.

Tom Pierson is CEO of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. Contact: tomp@federalwaychamber.com or (253) 838-2605. Also visit http://www.federalwaychamber.com and http://www.voiceofsouthsound.com.

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