Staff, public tell state more hospital beds needed

By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writerApril 7, 2010 

KENNEWICK — Kennewick resident Paula Goleman told state health officials Tuesday that she knows what it's like to be a patient in a hospital that's full.

Goleman went to Kennewick General Hospital eight years ago for same-day surgery, but doctors decided she needed to stay overnight. Because there were no beds, Goleman ended up in the hospital's birthing center.

"Obviously, the need for beds is not new," she said. "Both hospitals are experiencing this. Give us a hand. We'd like your help."

Goleman was just one of about 300 people who crowded into a room for two hours Tuesday at the Union Street branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries in Kennewick to tell the state the Tri-Cities needs more hospital beds.

The testimony was part of a public hearing on expansion applications by Kadlec Regional Medical Center and Kennewick General Hospital.

No hospital can simply add as many beds as it wants -- it first must get approval from the health department's Certificate of Need program, which involves making an application, having a public hearing and then having the state evaluate testimony and decide how many more hospital beds a community can support.

Kadlec has asked for 114 beds so it can open the remaining four floors of its River Pavilion tower, while KGH wants to put 25 beds at its Auburn Street campus back into use after it opens its new hospital at Southridge.

Officials from both hospitals have said they believe it's unlikely both applications will be granted because of the methodology the state uses to determine a community's need. That has led to competition between the two hospitals.

While a number of Kadlec employees and board members came to testify in support their hospital's application, several KGH officials just asked not to be shut out when a decision was made.

"Both KGH and Kadlec must be able to expand to keep pace with demand," said Wanda Briggs, vice president of the Kennewick Public Hospital District board. "Neither should be able to grow solely at the expense of the other."

The state approves hospital expansion applications based on population formulas, but hospital officials have said the health department typically uses a population estimate that doesn't reflect the booming growth in the Tri-Cities.

Population numbers are estimated by the state's Office of Financial Management, which produces low, average and rapid growth estimates. Staff with the Certificate of Need program generally use the average population growth projections, but the Tri-Cities is growing faster than that average estimate.

Commenters at the public hearing told Certificate of Need program officials that hospital beds routinely are full in the Tri-Cities and that patients are being sent out of the area. They urged the state to use a high population growth estimate when determining how many beds the community needs.

Dr. John Matheson, Kadlec's emergency department director, said the hospital has been averaging about 10 percent growth in its emergency visits per year for the last 15 years in part because of rapid population growth.

"Traditionally the projections used to make these determinations have not been consistent with the reality that exists here," he said. "It is frankly irresponsible if we don't look at what has been happening and what we know will be happening and use the higher growth curves."

Susan Kreid, vice chairwoman of Kadlec Health Systems' board, said the process historically was used to control health care costs, but currently is forcing the hospitals to become adversaries.

She noted a testimony sign-in sheet that asked participants to choose to either support or oppose one hospital, or remain neutral. But no option existed to support both.

"You have set up a situation where we have to fight each other for beds," she said.

Kreid said the hospitals have evolved in different directions -- each filling its own niche in the community.

"They are different hospitals," she said. "I hope you will award beds based on the needs of each hospital."

John Bloom of Richland said he was there to support Kadlec's application, but that didn't mean he opposed KGH's.

"It should not be a competitive situation in our state," Bloom said. "The needs of the community should be addressed fully and not one at the expense of the other."

A decision on the two applications is expected by June 7.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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