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Sacred Heart expansion OK’d

Washington state hospital regulators have approved a $54 million expansion plan for Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

The decision allows the addition of 75 patient beds. When the expansion is complete, which is expected to be in 2014, Sacred Heart will be a 719-bed hospital that draws patients from four states and Canada for specialty and trauma care for adults and children.

Construction would have to begin within two years, although Sacred Heart has signaled it is anxious to begin awarding contracts beginning in June.

Sacred Heart’s daily patient count has soared in recent years and the hospital was finally able to convince skeptical regulators – who twice rejected its expansion plans – that more acute-care beds are needed.

“We are delighted the (Washington state Department of Health) has agreed with our position that more critical care beds are needed,” said Elaine Couture, chief executive of Sacred Heart.

The decision, issued Friday, comes at the expense of Providence’s other major Spokane hospital, Providence Holy Family, which will give up 25 beds toward the expansion.

Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center, under the ownership of Community Health Systems Inc., have contended that Sacred Heart’s expansion plan also could affect their future.

Since Sacred Heart introduced the plan in 2008, Deaconess executives have likened the expansion to a scheme to further dominate the local market and hamper efforts to financially rehabilitate its competitor hospitals. Deaconess and Valley hospitals were bought by for-profit Community Health Systems in late 2008.

Deaconess is licensed for 388 beds but currently has just 283 ready for patient use. Valley holds licensing for 123 but uses 94.

The two hospitals told regulators that since Rockwood Clinic – the largest multi-specialty clinic in the region – was referring more patients to Deaconess and Valley, Sacred Heart’s expansion was not needed.

Sacred Heart responded that the merger of Rockwood and Deaconess had not cut into their patient load, contending that referrals from other physicians were making up the difference.

Sacred Heart collected widespread community support for the project with the promise of spending construction dollars during economic doldrums and assuring that the region’s health care sector would continue to grow and add jobs.

Sacred Heart also stressed its standing as the region’s lone level II trauma center. Deaconess stepped back from providing that level of trauma care last year. Since then, Sacred Heart has reported a spike in emergency room visits.

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