Deer Park’s 50-year-old community hospital is all but certain to close, shifting or idling nearly 60 employees and forcing residents to travel to Spokane or elsewhere for acute care.
Providence Health Care board members voted Thursday to shutter the 24-bed facility in the wake of declining admissions, falling revenues and a shortage of specialists willing to staff the hospital.
They’ll forward recommendations to Providence Health & Services, the parent organization that also operates Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital. A final decision is expected next month.
But many in the community of about 3,500 said they expect the hospital to close by the end of March, if not sooner. That includes employees who now must decide whether to re-apply for positions within the Providence system.
“Being a nurse for 37 years, the thought of starting over on nights and weekends – I don’t really want to do that,” said Patty McGuire, 58, a registered nurse who has worked in the Deer Park emergency and operating rooms for seven years.
McGuire said the mood was somber Friday as Providence officials conveyed the news. Providence officials said they had been evaluating Deer Park for a year, but word of a potential closure surfaced in September.
“I just kept thinking, ‘They really aren’t going to do this,’ ” McGuire said.
Community organizers worked hard to forestall the decision, circulating petitions, holding meetings and urging Providence officials to reconsider.
“If they don’t want to keep the hospital open, would they please put it up for sale?” said Christine Clark, 66, a retired laboratory technician who helped organize community gatherings.
But Providence officials said a year of study showed it wasn’t practical or profitable to keep the hospital open. Admissions have slowed to less than one a day, an average of nine patients occupied long-term care beds and less than 1 percent of Emergency Department patients were admitted to the hospital in 2006, said Tom Corley, the hospital’s president.
In recent years, it’s become increasingly difficult to attract specialists to work in the tiny rural hospital. Most patients find care at Holy Family or Sacred Heart in Spokane, some 18 miles away, Corley said.
The hospital, which has annual revenue of about $6.1 million, has lost money or barely broken even in recent years. The facility is aging and a replacement hospital would cost about $30 million, Corley has said.
Providence officials said new health care resources have expanded into the community, including an urgent care center, a community health clinic, imaging, laboratory and women’s services.
That was little comfort to the close-knit staff, McGuire said.
“There’s not a lot of happy faces around here,” she said. “It’s very sad.”
But she and Corley agreed on one thing: It’s better to have months of uncertainty come to a close.
“While it was a grieving experience for us all, including myself, there was an element of relief and release that a decision has been made,” Corley said Friday.
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