Closure of Harrison Bremerton being reconsidered by state

Public hearing scheduled for Sept. 8 at Bremerton School District Office meeting room

BREMERTON – The state Department of Health is taking another look at the proposed closure of Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton as part of the medical center’s move to an expanded campus in Silverdale.

A reconsideration hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sept. 8 in the Bremerton School District Office board room, 134 Marion Ave. North, Bremerton.

The focus of the reconsideration is limited to information related to CHI Franciscan’s bond rating, and CHI Franciscan’s financial feasibility based on 2016 data.

The last day to submit rebuttal comments related to the reconsideration is Sept. 25. The department’s evaluation is expected by Nov. 9, the according to a health department notice.

Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and other city officials have long contended that the proposed move of 242 of 253 acute care beds from Bremerton to Silverdale will make medical care less accessible to residents of Kitsap’s largest city. She noted that there have been “millions of dollars” in upgrades to the Bremerton site, and “I’d hate to see demolition of the entire facility.”

She added, “We do know that [Harrison Bremerton] is costly to operate with the infrastructure that is in place, but the thing is, we really need to concentrate on the beds. We need to retain some of those beds. They need to be operating acute care there.”

At a public hearing Feb. 21 in Poulsbo City Hall, Bremerton city officials asked that Harrison Bremerton be converted into a 100-bed community hospital. Abandoning the Bremerton site for an expanded medical center in Silverdale would eliminate easy access to medical care for older and lower-income residents who depend on public transit or others to get around, Bremerton officials said.

Earlier this year, the state Department of Health determined there was a need to relocate Harrison Bremerton’s acute care services to an expanded Harrison Silverdale, on which construction is now underway. The relocation project is proposed to be completed in two phases. The total estimated capital expenditure for both phases of the relocation project is $484.7 million, according to the Department of Health.

The expansion will put all of Harrison’s doctors, nurses, surgeons, and specialists in one place, resulting — proponents say — in improved coordinated care for patients. Construction is expected to be completed in 2020. Harrison Bremerton is expected to close after the expansion is completed. However, CHI Franciscan announced it plans to open a 30,000-square-foot outpatient clinic, with primary care and urgent care services, in Bremerton by 2018.

The City of Bremerton’s request for reconsideration of the certificate of need was one of three submitted to the state. The others were submitted by Deborah Pedersen of Port Townsend and Nancy Field of Sequim. They and the city say the department “erred in the sources, material and/or analyses upon which its decisions were based.” They present data that alleges CHI Franciscan doesn’t meet state benchmarks for ratios in long-term debt to equity, assets/current liabilities, assets funded by liabilities, operating expense/operating revenue, and debt service coverage.

“All four bond-rating agencies have lowered the CHI bond rating,” one of the reconsideration requests states. “As recently as March 2017, Moody’s rated CHI’s debt as one level above ‘junk bonds.’”

In a letter to the state Department of Health, CHI Franciscan senior vice president Thomas A. Kruse wrote that although the company’s bond rating had changed, the company has $6 billion cash and the city “fails to demonstrate that the change had any impact on the ability to finance the Harrison project. Because of the uncertainty in health care caused by a new [presidential] administration, changes in bond rating are occurring frequently.”

David Schultz, CHI Franciscan Health’s market president for the Peninsula Region, said in a statement, “Our commitment to expand access to care across the peninsula remains steadfast and we look forward to the conclusion of this important process and opening state-of-the-art facilities in Bremerton and Silverdale in the coming years.”

In Washington state, CHI Franciscan owns and operates:

CHI Franciscan Health, Tacoma

Franciscan Hospice House, University Place

Franciscan Medical Group clinics

Harrison HealthPartners, Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas

Harrison Medical Center, Bremerton

Harrison Medical Center, Silverdale

Highline Medical Center, Burien

Regional Hospital, Burien

St. Anthony Hospital, Gig Harbor

St. Clare Hospital, Lakewood

St. Elizabeth Hospital, Enumclaw

St. Francis Hospital, Federal Way

St. Joseph Medical Center, Tacoma

Bremerton’s long ties to its hospital

Bremerton has long, and strong, ties to its local hospital.

Harrison Medical Center began in 1911 as City of Bremerton Hospital; Benjamin Harrison — a local merchant, not the former president — was an early investor in the hospital, and his wife Anna volunteered there to care for people stricken during the flu epidemic of 1918. It became City General Hospital that year, was gifted to a community foundation in 1942 (it was initially gifted to the city, but that was prohibited by state law), and merged in 1956 with a surplused government hospital purchased by a foundation of local residents.

When times were tough — the Depression, the war years — the community raised money to keep the hospital going. The community raised more than $600,000 for the current medical center on Cherry Avenue.

Harrison Bremerton is located on 7.31 acres at 2520 Cherry Ave. The medical center, built in 1964, is 261,462 square feet.