by ALLYCE ANDREW, Snoqualmie Valley Record Reporter
The new Snoqualmie Valley Hospital is rising at a rapid rate and doors are slated to open for patients on Wednesday, May 6.
Rodger McCollum, District CEO, laid out the hospital’s vision from its inception to the freshly painted walls of its current incarnation. The staff started dreaming of renovations nearly a decade ago, but began construction after a groundbreaking ceremony in September 2013.
“About seven or eight years ago, we looked at expanding the old hospital because we were too full then,” McCollum explained. “We only have 14 patient rooms in the old hospital, so it really is very small in today’s world. The board looked at a lot of different alternatives and decided that it probably made sense to start over.”
The hospital bought the land for $5 million and the construction was a guaranteed $38.5 million ($500 per square foot) maximum price. The development is paid for by hospital revenue. The new facility has 25 beds and an intentional amount of extra storage, restrooms and parking.
Snoqualmie Valley Hospital was deemed a state-appointed “critical access” hospital in November 2005, right before the federal government regained control of determining eligibility. Critical access hospitals were formed to prevent healthcare from leaving rural communities after Medicare started using diagnostic related groups (DRGs) in the 80s.
Chief Operating Officer Tom Parker explained DRGs in layman’s terms.
“Imbedded in the DRG is a standard number of days (the hospital) expects for (a patient to stay),” Parker began. “The hospital eats the costs if they stay longer, which can be a disaster for small, rural hospitals. In the late 90s, Congress started the critical access program.”
McCollum explained the direct critical access benefits for the hospital.
“We’re Limited to 25 beds, (although we’re) licensed to 28. For that, we get instead of a DRG payment, full-cost based reimbursement for Medicare, Medicaid patients. That’s huge for small hospitals because it costs us more per day, per patient to do the same care you would get in a larger hospital. Critical access designation is what really forms the foundation of reimbursement for us to pay for the new hospital.”
A notable benefit of the critical access program is it allows the hospital to provide extended stays for subacute care, also known as “swing-bed” care.
“We can take patients from those big hospitals that are paid on a DRG, so they have to get the patients out,” McCollum continued. “They do not want them to be readmitted because they let them out too early, so a swing bed (program) really makes a huge amount of sense. We can take the time to get the patients stronger, faster and back into their home situations.”
The hospital district spans 420 square miles throughout east King County and was formed in 1972 by a popular vote. It has five clinics throughout the Valley, including the recently opened rehabilitation clinic in downtown Snoqualmie, which shares a space with the local, pediatric therapy, clinic of non-profit Encompass.
“Sometimes I feel like (the outpatient program) is just a hidden jewel.” Parker stated. “It’s really one of the reasons we leased that building — we created within that space a community meeting room. We’re really covering the full gamut of age, with Encompass covering the youth side.”
“We are about 30 days away from possibly having temporary occupancy,” McCollum stated, an astounding proposition for a bare building still missing most of its carpeting and glass.
The Benaroya Company is developing the hospital and working with Absher Company contractors. McCollum said the hospital is issuing revenue bonds to eventually purchase the hospital from the Benaroya family.
The new facility is located in the bustling Snoqualmie Ridge area (9801 Frontier Ave. S.E.) roughly two miles away from the old building, which they sold to the Snoqualmie Tribe for $14 million.
When asked about the tribe’s plans for the old hospital building, Tribal Chairwoman Carolyn Lubenau said in an email, “The Snoqualmie Tribe plans on continuing to use the property to provide services to Snoqualmie tribal members.”
An exterior view of the new Snoqualmie Valley Hospital facility.
ALLYCE ANDREW, Snoqualmie Valley Record Reporter
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