Issaquah community members influence hospital design

July 5, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Judd Kirk, of Port Blakely Communities, Mayor Ava Frisinger, Swedish CEO Dr. Rod Hochman and Gov. Chris Gregoire (from left) chat after the Swedish/Issaquah groundbreaking ceremony in October 2009. By Greg Farrar

Long before dignitaries gathered on windswept Grand Ridge on a cold October day to dip shovels into soil for a Swedish Medical Center campus in Issaquah, hospital executives asked community members to shape the facility.

The hospital system turned to a former Issaquah School District superintendent to lead the group, and enlisted a community cross section — 20 or so medical professionals, elected officials, community leaders, senior citizens and young parents — to serve.

The group shaped the hospital in the months before the October 2009 groundbreaking ceremony and continues to advise executives about Swedish/Issaquah.

“We were clearly looking for people who were not afraid to express their opinion, who were not afraid to tell us we were all wet and wrong,” said Dr. John Milne, vice president of medical affairs for Swedish/Issaquah and the emergency and ambulatory care centers in Redmond and Mill Creek. “We didn’t handpick people because they were going to be yes people.”

Former Superintendent Janet Barry, a Sammamish resident and Community Advisory Committee leader, said the group tackled a paramount question early on: “How do people fit into this building?”

Members emphasized modern technology for the hospital, but also advocated for softer touches, such as ample artwork and natural light. (Both features factor prominently into the completed hospital campus.)

“They always said, ‘Yes! We want high-tech, but not at the expense of that human warmth that makes people feel welcome and makes them feel that they’re in a highly personal place,’” Barry said.

Committee members said Swedish/Issaquah represents a key economic development component for the community.

“There’s no other community the size of our Issaquah-Sammamish community that doesn’t have a first-rate hospital facility. It’s been the missing piece,” Barry said. “You know that I believe we have a world-class school district, and I think this health-care dimension of our community life has been the missing piece. I’m thrilled that that’s going to be there.”

Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger said the outreach effort ensured that the hospital planning phase addressed community concerns.

“It was what certainly I, as mayor, and I would believe any of our policymakers would want to see with a major agency or organization that came into the community,” she said. “They made an effort very early on, when it was pretty evident that they were going to be here, that they wanted to have a group of community members as an advisory council.”

Phil Dyer, a former 5th Legislative District lawmaker and health-care expert, lauded hospital executives for the attention lavished on the community group.

“The Swedish people were bending over backwards to make sure that the design process really fit the needs of the community. I, frankly, had not seen such a thing. I’ve been involved in health care for more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen a large, institutional health care system take that much interest in designing and facilitating the community’s interests,” he said. “It was clear that they were listening to everything we said.”

The hospital also held town-hall-style meetings in Issaquah and Sammamish to ask residents about possible features for the facility.

“The best part of it was that Swedish listened and incorporated those ideas into the final hospital,” said Joan Probala, a committee member and Issaquah real estate agent. “They actually went out to the community, they asked what patients, what people wanted to expect when they got to the hospital, and they incorporated it into it.”

Though the hospital is complete, Swedish holds a long-term lease on a building along Northwest Sammamish Road for a standalone emergency room and medical offices. Milne said hospital leaders plan to ask Community Advisory Committee members about uses for the ER space after the facility relocates to Swedish/Issaquah on July 14.

Committee members also understood how the hospital could change behavior among Issaquah patients accustomed to traveling to Bellevue or Seattle for health care.

“This community has developed its patterns over long years. Where do they go to get health-care services?” Barry said. “It’s going to invite new patterns. That’s going to take a little bit of time, but I think the Swedish reputation will be significant in helping people to find their new patterns.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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