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Uncertain prognosis

With tears forming in her eyes while standing in the trauma room, registered nurse Lila Spotts, 56, says,
With tears forming in her eyes while standing in the trauma room, registered nurse Lila Spotts, 56, says, "We're family here. We're pretty attached," as she speaks about the possibility of closing Deer Park Hospital. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Declining admissions, uncertain revenues and a shortage of medical specialists willing to work at Deer Park Hospital could force Providence Health Care to close the medical center, officials said this week.

A decision about the future of the 51-year-old hospital is not expected until late November, but a year of discussion has pointed toward a new use for the 24-bed acute care facility.

“One alternative is to close the hospital, but with some residual services,” said Ryland “Skip” Davis, a chief executive with the nonprofit health care organization that runs 11 affiliates in Eastern Washington, including Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital.

Perhaps the hospital, which admits one person every other day, would be more useful as an expanded outpatient medical center, with laboratory, screening and other nonemergency services, said Davis and Tom Corley, the hospital’s president.

“We are really looking to determine how Providence can meet the long-term needs of the community,” Corley said Tuesday.

But the prospect of closing the stand-alone hospital has alarmed many in that community, including the nearly 60 staff members who have only recently heard the news. Lila Spotts, 56, a Deer Park charge nurse, said she and others were shocked at rumors of closure.

Employees would be offered jobs within the Providence system, according to officials, but the sites could be anywhere from Chewelah to Spokane. The thought of leaving the hospital where she’s worked for 16 years brought Spotts to tears.

“We’re family here. We’re pretty attached,” said the nurse, who lives in Green Bluff. “Everyone is friends. It’s not like other places I’ve worked where X-ray hated lab and lab wasn’t crazy about housekeeping.”

That atmosphere extended to the patients, said Myron Rasmussen, 73, a Deer Park resident whose father helped build the hospital in the mid-1950s and whose mother was cared for there in 2006 during her last days.

“I wouldn’t like that at all,” Rasmussen said of the proposed closure. “We were so pleased to see the loving care of the nurses and even the kitchen staff. You get into the bigger hospitals and you don’t get that.”

Increasingly, however, the tiny hospital at 1015 E. D St. is seeing fewer patients – and uncertain revenue. In 2006, only 77 acute care patients were admitted to the hospital, totaling only 280 patient days, according to records from the Washington state Department of Health. That’s down from 2000, when the hospital admitted 344 patients for 1,069 patient days.

Last year, the hospital posted losses of $300,000 on revenue of about $6.1 million, records showed. In 2000, the hospital lost about $400,000 on revenue of $4.5 million. Since then, Deer Park has broken even some years and looks to do so again, but it’s not a sure thing, Davis said.

“Certainly we don’t want to lose money there,” he said.

Financial concerns aren’t driving the decision, however, Corley and Davis said. More telling has been the decline in acute admissions, officials said. Most very sick people drive or are taken by ambulance to Spokane hospitals about 18 miles away, Corley said. Last year, only 1 percent of emergency room patients who required hospital admission remained in Deer Park.

“The people of Deer Park have chosen where they want their acute care,” Corley said.

That’s not quite accurate, staffers and community members said. Part of the problem is that doctors, including specialists, haven’t been willing to staff the hospital to provide the backup required for admission. Instead, the doctors prefer to send patients to the bigger hospitals.

“We’ve gotten zero support from our docs down here – and you can quote me,” Spotts said.

Instead of pulling the plug, Providence officials should invest in the hospital and the community, said Jorge Bombel, a former Providence Health Care board member who lives in Deer Park.

“I would like to see as much emphasis on why we can succeed as why we can’t succeed,” said Bombel, who emphasized he was speaking as a member of the community, not the board.

Providence officials insisted no decision has been made and they’re open to community discussion. That’s probably a good thing, Spotts said, because they’re likely to hear a lot of it.

“I think there’s going to be an uproar when the word gets out,” she said.