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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sacred Heart growth rejected

State says Spokane has enough beds

State officials have rejected Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s plans to add 152 patient beds.

The decision by the Washington state Department of Health puts an end to a $175 million construction project that was expected to span several years and employ as many as 700 people.

“We’re surprised, disappointed and, quite frankly, saddened at this decision,” said Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, chief executive of Providence Health Care, “because we know the Department of Health is very objective. We also know, of course, that we need the beds.”

Executives at Deaconess Medical Center were reserved in praising the state’s decision after accusing Sacred Heart of embarking on an expansion plan that would sabotage Deaconess’ efforts to rebuild.

Sacred Heart treated a record number of patients last year. The hospital’s long-range planning team anticipates the trend will intensify in coming years as the region’s population grows and ages.

The hospital wanted to phase in the new beds, making it the largest hospital in Washington within five years. The project would have reshaped Sacred Heart’s campus by adding four floors to the west wing and expanding its emergency room and then topping it with two more floors.

State regulators determined that, when combined, Spokane’s four major hospitals have enough beds to handle the expected rise in patient numbers.

Hospitals must gain state approval before adding patient beds. Regulators review a community’s health care system as a whole and weigh the wishes of one hospital against criteria designed to ensure patient safety, access to care and cost containment, said Karen Jensen, the Health Department’s assistant secretary for health Systems Quality Assurance. “These are tough decisions for us,” she said.

The report outlined a patient-bed surplus in Spokane, counter to Sacred Heart’s contentions that more beds were needed.

As recently as 2007, the report said, as many as 308 patient beds were available per day between Sacred Heart and Deaconess Medical Center.

“We respect the thorough review conducted by the Department of Health and their emphasis placed on ensuring the appropriate number of beds for our community,” Deaconess said in a statement read by spokeswoman Christine Varela.

Some of Sacred Heart’s growing patient numbers have come at the expense of in-town rival Deaconess, whose struggle over much of a decade culminated in its sale last fall to for-profit Community Health Systems Inc.

“We must conclude that this (Sacred Heart) project is, at its core, an attempt to thwart efforts to rebuild and stabilize Deaconess and Valley Hospitals,” wrote Tim Hingtgen and Dennis Barts, the new chief executives of Deaconess and sister facility Valley Hospital and Medical Center. “Allowing an unnecessary and unneeded expansion of a provider that already has a near 50 percent market share at a time when two other hospitals are preparing to launch initiatives, programs, and services that will provide them stability is inconsistent” with state rules.