Less than 1,000 votes kept EvergreenHealth from passing a $345 million bond that the public hospital district said was needed to pay for needed upgrades.
In the aftermath of April’s election, officials at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland learned that Eastside voters, not surprisingly, were concerned about seeing their taxes increase. So they tried to figure out a way for the tax rate to remain the same without decreasing the amount of the bond measure.
The result is a revised 20-year, $345 million bond measure on the Aug. 6 election ballot that would fund a new critical-care unit, an undated maternity center and work to retrofit the original hospital building.
Instead of adding a new rate on top of what property owners already pay, the new bond would extend the current tax rate of 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. When an existing bond expires in 2023, the proposed new bond’s tax rate would increase, essentially replacing the old one. Through 2042, the owner of a $750,000 home, for example, would continue to pay $217.50 per year.
The bond measure proposed in April would have added an additional 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value over 20 years.
“We’ve learned there are a number of people who moved to the Eastside who didn’t understand it’s a taxpayer-funded hospital,” said Dr. Jeff Tomlin, CEO of EvergreenHealth. “And we learned that we could do a better job at communicating where those taxpayer funds go.”
Unlike the April election, the new bond measure has an organized group of opponents, who say the hospital should raise money on its own, like other area medical centers, and question the transparency of the decisions to put another measure on the ballot.
More than half of the funding from Evergreen’s bond would go toward seismic upgrades for its original hospital building that was built in 1972. The focus is on ensuring that the hospital stay open in the event of a massive earthquake, Tomlin said.
“It’s apparent that this could be the only building left standing (after a natural disaster),” he said. “We need to update the infrastructure.”
Funding would go toward upgrading the maternity center and the critical-care unit. About 300 babies are born in the center each month, and the number is expected to increase as the Eastside population booms.
The hospital would like to move its critical-care unit closer to the emergency room, making it easier for physicians and nurses to move between the two and for patients to get services in the critical-care unit quicker.
Paul Hess, who has organized a group to oppose the measure, said opponents don’t think there should be a public hospital in an urban area, where residents have several choices for medical care. Hess says he goes to Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue.
“I’m paying for money to a hospital that I don’t even use, and I get nothing for it,” said Hess, who lives in Kenmore. “They need to run a hospital without getting into our pocket.”
Hospital officials say that health care should be available for all residents, and even residents who don’t regularly go to EvergreenHealth may still need the medical center in an emergency.
The hospital district serves about 446,300 people in the cities of Kirkland, Kenmore, Redmond, Woodinville, Sammamish, Duvall and Carnation.
The bond measure requires a 60 percent approval rate among at least 56,283 voters, according to King County Elections.