Swedish Medical Center campus nears completion

April 12, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The north wall of the Swedish Medical Center campus in the Issaquah Highlands is close to completion. By Greg Farrar

Campus serves as economic engine in highlands

Starbucks is coming to the Issaquah Highlands.

Only, rather than opening a shop on a street corner, the coffee giant is setting up inside the Swedish Medical Center.

The decision to include a Starbucks inside the light-filled atrium at the soon-to-open hospital illustrates how designers and executives plan to emphasize creature comforts and community outreach alongside medical treatment on the high-tech campus.

“It’s trying to be more consumer-friendly, family-friendly, less institutional,” architect Phil Giuntoli, health care principal at Seattle firm CollinsWoerman, said last week.

The steel-and-glass structure in the highlands is designed at Swedish executives’ behest to differ from other hospital campuses in the Puget Sound region.

“They were very cognizant of creating a community hospital — something that wasn’t the big downtown monolith,” Giuntoli said.

The campus is scheduled to open to patients July 9. The initial phase includes the medical office building. Then, executives plan to open the hospital portion in November — earlier than the projected February 2012 opening date. The facility is designed to accommodate up to 175 beds, although Swedish plans open at 80 beds in November and to increase to 175 as the need increases.

The facility is designed to incorporate state-of-the-art cancer and heart centers, surgical facilities and a secure obstetrics and gynecology floor. The emergency room at the highlands campus is also set to replace Swedish’s standalone emergency room near Lake Sammamish.

The construction site started buzzing after Gov. Chris Gregoire joined hospital executives and Issaquah leaders to break ground on the facility in October 2009. On a typical day, more than 500 people teem through the 18-acre site.

Giuntoli said a hospital is in some ways easier to design from the ground up, rather than adding to another structure.

Hospital promises high-end amenities

Because plans call for the offices and hospital to encompass more than 500,000 square feet, planners designed the facility for easy navigation. The hospital room layout, for instance, is numbered as in a hotel.

“You never get lost at Bally’s in Vegas,” Kevin Brown, Swedish senior vice president and chief administrative officer, said during a hardhat tour at the construction site. “You’re never going to get lost here.”

The setup is not a cafeteria, Susan Gillespie, project director and Swedish administrative director of ambulatory care, said during the tour. Rather, Café 1910, as the hospital intends to call the dining area, plans to serve pizza from a brick oven and other fare more often seen on a bistro table than a hospital tray. (The numeral in the name nods to year the Swedish Hospital opened in Seattle.)

Spare the jokes about hospital food, please.

“We will not serve Jell-O here,” Gillespie added, and then paused. “I’m pretty sure we will not serve Jell-O.”

Planners said the hospital included amenities lined up inside the atrium — a public café, plus shops and community meeting rooms — to encourage passers-by to use the facility for more than medical care.

“There was a very conscious plan to put retail into the facility,” said Janet Barry, a former Issaquah School District superintendent and the leader of a community advisory group for the hospital campus. “Along with the medical office building, which is bringing a fine range of physicians into the community, from which patrons will be coming and going, there will be a real focus on serving as a resource for a healthy community.”

In order to design a 21st century hospital, designers relied on input from the community advisory group, and residents throughout the Issaquah and Sammamish areas, plus lessons learned at other medical facilities.

A ‘big summer of openings’ for area

Issaquah resident Dr. John Milne, Swedish vice president for medical affairs, said the hospital is also designed for efficiency.

“One of the most valuable things that anyone has these days is time,” he said.

The time patients spend to travel for medical treatment elsewhere in the region is another factor in the long-running effort to open a hospital campus in the highlands.

“When we looked about at other communities of comparable size and complexity, they have a hospital that serves them,” Barry said. “Our community has traveled out, mostly, I think, to the Overlake area but also to Seattle, for services. So, we’re really excited that this is going to be in our community.”

Supporters also expect the hospital boost the economy in the highlands. Some of the retail amenities promised in the neighborhood more than a decade ago turned out to be slow to materialize.

“I think the medical jobs will transform the community in a very, very positive way,” Brown said.

John Shaw, consulting director of operations for highlands developer Port Blakely Communities, said the hospital is helping to attract interest to the surrounding neighborhood.

“As we’re out in the market looking to attract retail developers to the project, it’s not lost on them, of course, that Swedish is there and about to open a beautiful, new facility,” he said.

The hospital also piqued interest from potential builders considering medical-related construction near the facility.

Swedish is scheduled to open the hospital at about the same time as the YWCA Family Village at Issaquah and the eco-friendly zHome townhouses. Bellevue College is also inching ahead on planning for a satellite campus in the highlands.

“This summer will be a big summer of openings, and it will show a lot of momentum, which is not lost on the market,” Shaw said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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