Determine how site can best meet community needs | In Our Opinion

The Bremerton City Council’s idea that Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton be converted into a community hospital is a good idea and should be explored.

Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and members of the City Council told state health officials Feb. 21 that moving Harrison Medical Center from Bremerton to Silverdale would make access to medical care difficult for older and lower-income residents of their city. Many of those residents depend on transit or others to get around. Councilman Greg Wheeler spoke of the time he saw a woman fall and injure her mouth. Her first concern was the cost of ambulance transport to the hospital; he drove her there instead.

Bremerton, population 39,520, is the largest and most urban city in Kitsap County. According to the U.S. Census, 21.5 percent of the population is considered to be in poverty and 12.9 percent do not have health insurance. The median household income is the lowest in the county — $45,658, compared to $56,226 in Poulsbo, $61,021 in Silverdale, and $62,587 in Port Orchard. The veteran population is 4,936, the largest in the county.

We have no doubt that the community would benefit from a community hospital or urgent care center at the likely-to-be-former Harrison Bremerton. Other services could be located there as well.

City officials’ concern that the Harrison Bremerton site will be left to become a blight on the landscape is a legitimate concern. It would be a cruel irony if a medical center that the community built to meet local needs became a hindrance to economic development in the city it has served for more than a century.

The Bremerton community helped build what is now Harrison Bremerton, and it deserves a say in its future. Harrison Medical Center began in 1911 as City of Bremerton Hospital; Benjamin Harrison 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 261,462 square feet on 7.31 acres. Tearing it down would be a waste. CHI Franciscan needs to work with the City of Bremerton to determine how that site can best be used to meet community needs.