POULSBO — Bremerton city officials asked CHI Franciscan officials Feb. 21 to convert the likely-to-be-vacated Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton into a 100-bed community hospital.
Abandoning the Bremerton site for an expanded medical center in Silverdale will eliminate easy access to medical care for older and lower-income residents who depend on public transit or others to get around, Bremerton officials said.
Bremerton City Councilman Greg Wheeler told Kitsap Daily News later about the time he and his wife were out driving in their neighborhood and saw an older woman fall and injure her mouth. The Wheelers stopped to help her and the woman worried about the cost of ambulance transport to the hospital. “That was the first thing she said,” Wheeler recalled. The Wheelers ended up driving her there.
For residents like her, the move from Bremerton to Silverdale “is going to be a serious hit,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler and several other public officials, emergency and medical personnel, and residents spoke at the state Department of Health’s hearing at Poulsbo City Hall on CHI Franciscan’s request for certification that a need exists for the medical center’s move from Bremerton to Silverdale.
CHI Franciscan Health wants to close Harrison Bremerton and consolidate its services in an expanded Harrison Silverdale, which they say is more centrally located. Expansion of Harrison Silverdale would be completed in two phases at a total cost of $484.6 million. A decision on the certificate of need is expected on April 17, according to a Department of Health notice.
All told, Harrison Medical Center is licensed for a total of 347 beds, according to an Aug. 24 letter to the state from Richard Petrich, CHI Franciscan’s vice president of planning and business development. The Bremerton site currently has 253 inpatient beds, the Silverdale site has 94, of which 24 are for neonatal patients. If the relocation proceeds as planned, all inpatient beds and services will be relocated from Bremerton to Silverdale.
“This project will also result in our open heart surgery and elective PCI programs being relocated from the Bremerton campus to the Silverdale campus,” Petrich wrote. PCI is the abbreviation for percutaneous coronary intervention, a non-surgical procedure used to treat narrowing of the coronary arteries of the heart.
Bremerton officials say remodeling the current medical center would be less expensive than demolishing the Bremerton medical center and expanding the Silverdale site. CHI Franciscan officials disagree. Several medical care providers said consolidating services at one medical center would be more efficient. Others talked of the Silverdale site’s proximity to Highway 3 and its location in the center of the county; James Civilla, a Kitsap Public Utility District commissioner, said he can get from his Port Orchard office to Poulsbo faster than he can to Harrison Bremerton.
Other reasons touted for the move: the new Harrison Silverdale will have more natural lighting and will require 50 percent less water and electricity than the current site; a majority of the patient rooms will be private; and there will be accommodations for guests.
But Bremerton officials expressed regret that the relationship between their community and their hospital seemed to be ending. According to a history of Harrison Medical Center, the current medical center was built in 1965 at a cost of nearly $3.2 million, a portion of which was raised by the community. But Harrison Medical Center evolved from a hospital founded in 1911 which, over the years, benefitted from community fundraising and bequests, among them from the Harrison family.
Bremerton officials also worry that the site will be abandoned and become a blight. They asked that if Harrison Bremerton cannot remain as a community hospital, that it be torn down and the site made ready for new development.
Concerns about the expansion ranged from lack of choice in local health care to CHI Franciscan directives that run contrary to abortion and death-with-dignity laws.
Several doctors and medical center board members said patients have the same access to reproductive and end-of-life care that they did before Harrison affiliated with CHI Franciscan in 2013. However, several also noted that Harrison did not perform abortions prior to 2013 because those services were available elsewhere in the county.