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Sacred Heart plan rejected

Hospital proposed 152 more beds, larger wing and ER

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s plan to add more patient beds has been rejected, again.

The setback for the region’s largest hospital is the latest development in its failed expansion quest. Sacred Heart wanted to add 152 beds – a proposal that included adding floors to a hospital wing and enlarging its emergency room.

Rival hospital Deaconess Medical Center contested the growth plans from the start and welcomed last week’s 55-page ruling by a Washington state Department of Health administrative law judge.

Sacred Heart calls its plan an important project to ensure there are enough adult critical care beds for rising numbers of critically ill patients.

And it marketed the $134 million price tag as a financial boon that would put people to work.

“We still need these beds,” said Elaine Couture, chief executive of Sacred Heart. “If you are an individual coming into our emergency department and you need a critical care bed and all I have is a neonatal intensive care bassinet … I can’t fit you into that bed.”

Hospital officials, she said, will review the ruling and then decide whether to seek reconsideration, file an appeal in state court or drop the project.

Sacred Heart rolled out its expansion project in September 2008 just as national hospital company Community Health Systems Inc. completed its purchase of Deaconess Medical Center and committed to invest $100 million in equipment and building upgrades.

The expansion plans exposed the deep rift developing between the hospital systems.

Community Health officials called the Sacred Heart expansion plan an attempt to undermine its rehabilitation of Deaconess, which had been losing millions of dollars and laying off employees during the past decade.

Deaconess is licensed for 388 beds, but is considered full when the patient count reaches about 250.

Bringing that unused capacity into service would be a massive undertaking for the hospital – especially following years when patients were migrating to Sacred Heart.

Deaconess officials noted they were attempting to bolster the hospital and pointed to its new affiliation with the Rockwood Clinic, the region’s largest multispecialty clinic.

In a prepared statement, Deaconess and Valley Hospital, both owned by Community Health Systems, noted their belief that Spokane has ample licensed bed capacity.

State regulators with the Certificate of Need program that weigh the merits of expansion plans and award permits initially ruled against Sacred Heart.

Sacred Heart appealed and eventually reached a settlement with the state that called for 50 new beds and the transfer of 25 beds from Holy Family Hospital. Both hospitals are owned by Providence Health Care.

Deaconess then fought back and filed its own appeal, seeking to have the settlement discarded.

During the yearlong appeal, Bart Eggen, executive manager of the state’s Certificate of Need program, personally oversaw a recount of patient beds in Spokane.

After revising the numbers to about 1,100 acute-care beds, the state changed its stance on the settlement with Sacred Heart.

Eggen said his office determined that while Spokane didn’t need more patient beds, Providence should be given the ability to move 75 beds out of Holy Family and into Sacred Heart.

Providence never embraced such a proposal, which would have shrunk its hospital in North Spokane by about a third.

Rather, Providence renewed pursuit of its initial 152-bed proposal while still being receptive to the settlement with the state for 50 new beds and 25 from Holy Family, said Sacred Heart spokeswoman Sharon Fairchild.

Eggen said he was surprised the administrative law judge rejected every expansion proposal.


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