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MultiCare officials remain committed to building a hospital in Covington after putting it on hold
Right now, explained Hugh Kodama, vice president of the south county region for MultiCare Health System, they are re-evaluating the options for a 50-bed hospital proposed in November 2009.
What was planned four years ago was a 24-hour emergency department, which opened in April 2012, along with other new services such as a women and children’s center, labor and delivery as well as expanded surgical services with a goal of as many as 58 inpatient beds for acute care. The plan would have been implemented in phases over a seven-year period.
Since those plans were announced, Kodama said, things have changed. He told the Covington City Council about MultiCare’s intentions for a hospital in the city at its Oct. 8 meeting.
“We are fully committed to design a hospital that meets the need of the community,” he said at the meeting.
Kodama said in an interview Oct. 17 he reminded the council that Oct. 4 was the 20th anniversary for MultiCare in Covington, which was a significant anniversary because it points to the vision the organization had more than two decades ago for providing for the needs of the area.
“When we built the facility in 1993, there was really nothing out there,” Kodama said. “People smarter than I built the property in the middle of nowhere knowing there was going to be growth. The main thing we wanted to do was bring physicians services to people. In 2009, we decided this area was ready for a hospital.”
From there, MultiCare pursued a certificate of need for hospital beds through the state Department of Health in April 2010. That request for 58 beds was approved in December 2010. At the same time, Auburn Regional Medical Center and Valley Medical Center also submitted requests, but both were denied.
That did not mean MultiCare was able to get straight to building the hospital on its site in Covington. The Department of Health decision was appealed.
“That was the first time three different medical care systems were seeking to build a hospital (in Covington) so that indicated there was need there,” Kodama said. “With the traffic getting worse, we needed more services right at that location, so we believe that’s the reason we received the certificate of need (for beds).”
While the state’s decision regarding the hospital beds was contested, Kodama said, Auburn Regional Medical Center was put up for sale. MultiCare officials were interested in purchasing the hospital before it was offered, something Kodama explained was not a secret in the medical community in the region.
“It was fortuitous for us because Covington started growing and Maple Valley and Black Diamond started growing,” Kodama said. “We thought that the cultures fit well and that we could make a difference.”
MultiCare, therefore, bought Auburn Regional Oct. 1, 2012. The focus of integrating the hospital into MultiCare drew attention away from plans for a hospital in Covington, though it did not kill those plans.
“We’ve done a lot of work in Auburn,” Kodama said. “It was so important for us to have a seamless merger … and we wanted to keep the great people here. We also wanted to provide them with the tools they needed to do their jobs well.”
Now that the first anniversary of the purchase of Auburn Regional has come and gone, along with all the work put in as part of the integration process, it is time again for MultiCare to look at the options in Covington.
“We are planning for the Covington hospital because by October 2014 we would have to submit plans and obtain permits to meet certificate of need requirements,” Kodama said. “Like the Covington emergency department, which we invited a lot of public comment and participation (on), we’re going to do the same thing with the hospital because we feel like with the public input we developed a better ED. That’s a rich discussion you have with the public in order to get the input to make a better product so having the public involved is key.”
Kodama added that he asked the Covington City Council if they had recommendations for community members who could offer input.
In addition, Kodama said, he told the council that since 2009, not only did MultiCare purchase Auburn Region but the organization also now has to consider the impacts of health care reform on its plans for a hospital in Covington.
“Once we purchased Auburn, we didn’t want to duplicate services,” Kodama said. “We think we’re in a good position to support healthcare reform, however there’s a lot of things we need to pay attention to so as we learn more about the changes that are changing in health care. We need to pay attention to those changes so we can prepare and set up programs..Within those two big changes we’re reevaluating all of those things we’re talking about putting out in that area.”
Covington City Manager Derek Matheson wrote in an email interview MultiCare’s plans for expanded services in the city plays well into the council’s long term vision of growth and development.
“The city is very excited that MultiCare plans to seek public involvement in the design process and break ground on a Covington hospital as soon as next fall,” Matheson wrote. “Healthcare is a huge piece of our economic development vision, and the hospital will cement Covington’s place as the regional healthcare center for Southeast King County.”
Kodama said the plan is to create a comprehensive system of care. There was a strong core of clinics and physicians, but, there were other areas MultiCare needed to grow and that included hospitals.
“It was hard to give concrete answers (to Covington City Council) because we’re trying to innovate, we’re trying to see where healthcare is going, we’re trying to look five to 10 years down the road,” Kodama said. “Completing the design, developing the plans, getting the permits, that’s the next steps.”