Swedish/Issaquah receives official welcome as opening nears
July 12, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Swedish Medical Center executives, community leaders and elected representatives stood beneath a banner proclaiming “the future of health care” and cut a blue ribbon July 7 to open Swedish/Issaquah, a $365 million hospital and, officials hope, a model for “green” practices and patient healing.
“When you really believe in something, it is amazing how much you can accomplish when you put your mind to it,” Kevin Brown, Swedish Medical Center senior vice president and chief administrative officer, said at the ceremony. “The residents of the greater Issaquah-Sammamish area put their mind up that they wanted to have a facility, a hospital that they could call home and never gave up on that idea. Neither did Swedish.”
The hospital opens to patients July 14. The portion containing the hospital beds is due to come online in November, months ahead of schedule.
Come July 2012, Swedish/Issaquah is projected to sustain 1,000 jobs.
For the opening celebration, the hospital resembled a hotel lobby more than a health care facility. Sunlight glinted off of the polished terrazzo floor as musicians performed up-tempo numbers and servers in black ties carried platters of cheese and charcuterie through the scrum.
Officials estimated the invitation-only crowd at the ceremony at about 1,000 people.
“Today is truly a day to celebrate,” Mayor Ava Frisinger said to the dignitaries gathered in the atrium and perched on mezzanines overlooking the space.
The mayor then set aside the notes on the lectern and ad-libbed about the differences between the Issaquah hospital and health care facilities from the not-so-distant past.
“This does not feel like a hospital,” she said. “It does not have the somewhat unsettling green corridors, the dark, somewhat frightening waiting rooms and a smell that one doesn’t want to identify, necessarily.”
‘Not a hospital’
Instead, Swedish/Issaquah is outfitted in neutral tones and reclaimed wood. The centerpiece is a sun-splashed atrium containing a Starbucks, Lily & Pearl — a boutique made to resemble a L’Occitane more than a hospital lobby gift shop — and other stores.
The hospital system and Puget Sound Energy partnered to develop a “practical ‘green’” facility — the most energy-efficient hospital in the state and perhaps the United States.
In the patient areas branching from the atrium, electronic medical records augment state-of-the-art medical equipment.
“In short, not your father’s hospital,” Brown said.
The design process started years ago, even before Swedish received state approval to build a hospital in Issaquah. (The state OK’d the facility in 2007 after legal challenges.)
On the day hospital executives and architects gathered to start assembling ideas for the Issaquah campus, blank sheets lined the meeting room walls. The planners, eager to jot down ideas, waited — and waited.
Then, “One of us, I think myself, probably said — they’re sitting there ready to write this down — ‘Not a hospital,’” Brown recalled.
So, architects and executives from the 101-year-old hospital system set out to build a medical center for the 21st century, as well as a hospital to endure for a century.
The opening is a milestone outright. The last new hospital on the Eastside opened during the Nixon era. Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland started accepting patients March 9, 1972.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and other leaders gathered in October 2009 for a groundbreaking ceremony. Construction required less time than expected, due in part to innovations in how planners bundled project contracts.
‘Built for the community’
Before crews started excavating dirt on the Issaquah Highlands site, executives formed a Community Advisory Committee to collect ideas and input. Former Issaquah School District Superintendent Janet Barry, a Sammamish resident, led the committee.
The completed hospital, committee members said, reflects the group’s priorities.
“As you walk through this facility, you’ll see some things here that are very, very Northwest,” said Dr. Rod Hochman, Swedish Medical Center CEO. “This place feels like the Northwest.”
In addition to the officials, doctors and donors at the July 7 ceremony, attendees included former Councilwoman Maureen McCarry. On the council and the Community Advisory Committee, the former Harborview Medical Center executive played a key role in landing a hospital for Issaquah, but left both organizations as she battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell planned to attend the ceremony, too, but canceled in order to remain in Washington, D.C, as lawmakers consider raising the federal debt limit. Hochman instead read a message from the senator.
Like the other remarks at the ceremony, the message from Cantwell focused on sustainability and economic development.
The construction spurred interest in the surrounding neighborhood — something Frisinger hailed as a boon for the community.
“Hospital employees may live up the street, walk to work and play in the more than 1,500 acres of parks, trails and open space,” Frisinger said.
Swedish/Issaquah is also designed to attract more than employees. Designers meant for the public art installed throughout the hospital and the amenities inside the atrium to encourage passers-by to mosey into the facility for more than health care.
“This is built for the community, by the community and will be something that the community embraces for a long, long time,” Brown said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.