Members of the audience display signs that oppose the closure of Harrison Bremerton hospital. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)

Residents, officials to state: Don’t close community’s hospital

BREMERTON — Residents of Bremerton and nearby communities made their voices heard loud and clear: do not close the community’s hospital.

Approximately 200 people, some of whom had to wait outside due to overcrowding, were on hand in the Bremerton School District Office board room on Sept. 8 to voice their opposition to the closure of Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton as part of a proposal to move medical care to an expanded Silverdale campus. The hearing was conducted by the state Department of Health as part of its reconsideration process.

While the focus of the meeting was limited to information related to CHI’s bond rating and its financial feasbility based on 2016 data, many residents found the opportunity to talk about how the closure would affect the city and the surrounding area.

The crowd consisted of residents, members and supporters of UFCW 21, a union that represents the hospital’s workers, and a few members of the City Council, among others, but no matter who spoke the message remained consistently to deny the move from Bremerton to Silverdale.

“If the county is growing so enormously, let there be another hospital built in the northern part of the county, but not to take away care from other people,” said Mary Lou Long, a Bremerton resident and former City Council member.

Although CHI Franciscan, which owns Harrison Medical Center, has announced plans to open a 30,000-square foot facility in Bremerton to be used as an outpatient clinic with primary care and urgent care services, residents worried about the lack of true emergency care accessible to people in the county’s largest city.

With recent natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey and the 8.1-magnitude earthquake in Mexico on Sept. 8, still fresh in people’s minds, public comment turned to a scenario in which the county’s only hospital had to turn away patients because of weather-related damage.

“Twenty hospitals in Houston were diverting incoming casualties due to damage,” said Niran Al-Agba, a Silverdale-based pediatrician and native Kitsap County resident. “If your one hospital is damaged, there’s nothing left. We’re going to be cut off by bridge, by ferry. We’ll be evacuating by air.”

Recent news surrounding a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson against CHI Franciscan, alleging price-fixing and anti-competitive deals — as well as news about its downgraded credit rating — also did little to quell the public’s fears, a point made by Kitsap resident Emily Randall during her testimony.

City Council member Leslie Daugs said. “With the poor credit rating CHI has, they wouldn’t be able to get a job in Bremerton.”

Along with Mayor Patty Lent and Bremerton City Council members Greg Wheeler, Jerry McDonald and Richard Huddy, as well as state Rep. Michelle Caldier, Daugs discussed the impact the closure of Harrison Bremerton would have on the surrounding neighborhood. A move out of Bremerton would cause a spiral of lowering property values, vacant property and leaving the many patients at nearby nursing homes without adequate access to hospital care, Daugs said.

Representatives respond

Nick Barto, the senior vice president of corporate finance and investments for CHI, said that while the company does not take the bond rating change lightly, the company was in good financial shape to take on the project.

“We are capable of and prepared to continue our financial commitment to the project, which we believe will benefit the community greatly,” Barto said.

Bob Cross, CHI’s vice president of strategic growth and development, said CHI has $6 billion in cash reserves as of Sept. 8, which is reflected in financial documents submitted for the application.

“I can state uequivocally that the 2016 financials have no impact on Harrison’s ability to complete and meet all of the applicable [certificate of need] review criteria,” said Cross.

Rebuttal comments will be accepted by the state Department of Health until Sept. 25. A decision on the reconsideration is expected Nov. 9.

— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitaap News Group. Contact him at mkrulish@soundpublishing.com.