Within the EvergreenHealth Monroe hospital sits the “mothballed maternity ward,” where less than a decade ago expectant and new mothers filled the wing’s five rooms decorated with flowery wallpaper and pastel-colored furniture.
The wallpaper and some of the furniture remain, but the rooms are now used for coffee breaks and as areas to train nurses. Women now have to travel an hour or more to give birth — if they have time.
If they don’t, they end up giving birth in the hospital’s emergency room.
“People ask me, ‘When are babies coming back?’ ” said Renee Jensen, chief administrative officer of EvergreenHealth Monroe. “There’s a lot of passion for being able to service young families.”
The Snohomish County hospital hopes to bring back its maternity ward, which has been shuttered for eight years, with $4 million raised annually over six years by a levy on the April 23 special election ballot. The money raised would also help upgrade equipment and transition the hospital to an electronic medical-record system.
Monroe isn’t the only local medical center asking for funding in next week’s election. Eastside voters will decide whether to approve a $345 million bond to pay for upgrades at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland. If approved, the 20-year bond would fund a new critical-care unit, an updated maternity center and work to retrofit the original hospital building.
Supporters of both measures say funding is critical for their respective medical centers, one a small community hospital and the other a large, multi-building facility. Though they are both under the EvergreenHealth umbrella, each medical center operates in a separate public-hospital district and will receive funding from its specific levy or bond.
Ballots must be postmarked by April 23 or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on that day to be counted.
There are no formal groups opposing the measures; however, some residents have said on social media that the tax rate is too high.
EvergreenHealth bond for Eastside
EvergreenHealth in Kirkland requires seismic upgrades to its original hospital building, which was built in 1972, and parking areas, to help the facility withstand a strong earthquake, said EvergreenHeath CEO Amy Beiter. The costs for retrofitting account for about half of the bond investments, according to the medical center.
“This will help ensure that EvergreenHealth will continue to admit and care for patients in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster that experts are predicting will hit our region,” Beiter said.
Funding would also go toward updating the maternity center, where about 300 babies are born each month. The volume of deliveries has increased, and there are more patients with complications such as diabetes and high blood pressure, in part because more women are giving birth at later ages.
With the maternity center at capacity, some patients have to move to other floors meant for medical or surgical patients. Nurses regularly report walking 20,000 steps each day going back and forth between floors, said Dr. Angela Chien, an obstetrician-gynecologist who has been at EvergreenHealth since 2005.
“It’s good exercise, but that’s a lot when you have patient care in between,” Chien said. “Redesigning the units will definitely reduce fatigue for our nurses.”
The hospital district includes the Eastside cities of Kirkland, Kenmore, Redmond, Woodinville, Sammamish, Duvall and Carnation. The hospital serves about 446,300 people, and the population is projected to increase by about 9 percent in four years.
The hospital is anticipating an even greater increase in patients older than 65, who require additional, specialized services, Beiter said. The medical center is one of the only providers for geriatric care in the area.
“They, thank goodness, are living longer, so not only do you have more people, but longer-term care,” she said. “We want to make sure we grow to address capacity.”
If approved, a homeowner would pay an average of 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value annually over 20 years. The owner of a $700,000 home, for example, would pay about $126 per year.
The measure requires a 60-percent approval rate, with a minimum turnout of 56,283 voters, according to King County Elections.
EvergreenHealth levy for Monroe area
At EvergreenHealth Monroe, aging technology sometimes requires emergency-room nurses to do “a little MacGyvering” when they’re seeing patients, said Sheila Page, the emergency, critical care and trauma manager. The ER sees patients with a wide variety of ailments — heart attacks, Stevens Pass skiers with broken bones, injured motorcyclists.
Tax dollars from the levy would pay for upgraded equipment in the emergency rooms and new CT and MRI scanners.
The hospital’s computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners are both about 20 years old, and the MRI is in another building across a parking lot, where patients are taken in a wheelchair or ambulance. The scanners have to cool between uses, so the technician has to wait about 30 minutes before another patient can come in. The entire process can take up to two hours, but having a new MRI in the main building would cut that time down to about 10 minutes, according to the hospital.
If the equipment fails, ambulances transporting a patient may have to bypass the hospital and head somewhere else.
“For trauma or stroke patients, (the scanner) is one of the first lines of defense,” Jensen said. “Without them, you can’t properly serve the community.”
Page said she occasionally sees expectant mothers coming in when they weren’t able to make it to the closest maternity wards in Kirkland or Everett. It’s not ideal, she added.
The maternity ward, which averaged about one delivery a day, was closed by Valley General Hospital in 2011 to save money before it joined EvergreenHealth and became EvergreenHealth Monroe. If the levy is approved, the new maternity ward would be the only one from Monroe to Wenatchee.
“It really does create this wonderful connection to the community and the hospital,” Jensen said.
The hospital district includes Monroe, Snohomish, Maltby, Sultan, Gold Bar and Index.
If approved, a homeowner would pay 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, an increase of 20 cents from the current levy rate. The owner of a home worth $400,000 would pay $188 annually.
The levy requires a majority approval to pass.