St. Francis Hospital gets approval for $20.5M expansion

The additional 24 beds should help the busy hospital handle increasing numbers of patients.

St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way received approval this month for a $20.5-million expansion that will add 24 new acute care beds to the busy hospital.

The beds — classified as medical / surgical beds — will bring the hospital’s total bed count to 148, including the specialty care nursery, according to Virginia Mason Franciscan Health Chief Operations Officer Russell Woolley. The extra beds will allow the hospital to better respond to increasing demand for medical care, Woolley said.

The expansion will require moving the hospital’s Family Birth Center from the second to the first floor. Woolley said it will give the hospital a chance to renovate and modernize their newborn care and save parents-to-be from having to use the stairs or elevators.

There are multiple reasons hospitals around the state are stressed for resources, Woolley said, including a seasonal surge in respiratory illnesses, patients putting off routine care, increases in need for care for behavioral and mental health illnesses, and the simple reality of population growth.

“Our emergency room, I think as well as other hospitals thoughout the region, have really seen a rise in cases,” Woolley said.

This winter in particular has seen record numbers of hospital usage, exceeding even the patient numbers seen over the last few years of the pandemic, Woolley said. The increase can be attributed largely to seasonal COVID-19, influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infections going around.

Overall, there’s also been an increase in the general “acuity” or the severity of illness and level of service needed for patients coming into the hospital, Woolley said.

Despite the opening of the MultiCare Covington Hospital in 2018, hospital occupancy in southeast King County has increased overall since 2015, according to figures in St. Francis’ application to the state Department of Health for adding the 24 new beds.

St. Francis has had the highest acute care occupancy rates of any southeast King County hospitals in that time, and in 2021, it had the fifth highest occupancy of any hospital in Washington state, according to that data.

For the 2021 fiscal year,“St. Francis’ acute care occupancy exceeded the 65% targeted midnight occupancy … nearly 98% of the time,” a project description submitted to the DOH reads. “For more than half the year, midnight occupancy on acute care beds was 75% or higher. At these occupancy levels, patients have experienced excessive holding/boarding in the emergency department and/or transfer to other hospitals.”

Adding the 24 new acute beds will help remedy that situation and build capacity for the future, St. Francis said in that description. By moving some post-partum beds to medical and surgical care, the project will overall expand the hospital’s medical and surgical capacity from 96 to 128 — a 33% increase.

The Department of Health agreed the project was “appropriate and needed” and signed off on it Dec. 13.

The new beds are “really, really needed as the community has grown dramatically and steadily, and the number of hospital beds has (held) steady,” Woolley said.

With the DOH approval complete, Woolley said he expects the project to begin somewhere around mid-2023. As the hospital gets its contractors on board, they’ll be able to provide a more firm timeline on when the project will be finished, he said.

The work will all take place within the hospital’s existing footprint.

The Family Birth Center, currently located on the second floor of the hospital tower, will be moved to the first floor and become “a brand new, state-of-the-art birth center,” Woolley said.

The space it leaves behind will be reconfigured to be a general medical and surgical section of the hospital.