Samaritan could build new hospital

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Consultants (from left) Jody Carona, Joe Kunkel and John Dao lay out the results of a study done to look at a new or remodeled Samaritan Hospital at a special commission meeting Tuesday.

MOSES LAKE — Samaritan Healthcare officials have taken an option on land that could be used to build a new hospital. The project doesn't have an estimated cost, but would be more than $100 million, according to consultants working on the project with hospital officials. A preliminary review of the hospital's finances indicate the project could be paid for without requesting a construction bond from district voters.

Consultant John Dao said the assessment was based on “very preliminary numbers.” Currently the cost of new construction is about $500 to $600 per square foot, “but it's changing constantly.” There's a lot of demand for hospital construction right now, and that is making each project more expensive, he said.

“We are confident it's going to be over $100 million for that campus, but don't have a firm number quite yet. Right now we are using around $100 million for the overall target of what we think this replacement facility is going to cost,” Dao said.

That's factored into a “very complicated” financial analysis, which looks at the hospital's projected business over the next five to 10 years, and “overlay on top of that, this amount of additional debt that you're going to have. At the end, what we're trying to conclude is whether or not this project can sustain itself on the hospital's own operating profitability and markets. Our preliminary evaluations are that you can indeed afford a project of that size and scope without having to go to a public bond.”

Hospital officials have looked at other options, including remodeling and expanding the existing facility, or building an entirely new building on the current property. Dao said in each of those cases, the total project cost would be more than $100 million.

The property under option is at the intersection of Yonezawa Boulevard and Clover Drive. Consultant Joe Kunkel recommended at least 40 acres, saying that much land would allow the hospital to expand.

The hospital's current site is 11 acres, which is surrounded by wetlands, other medical and government facilities, and an East Columbia Irrigation District site. Commissioner Tom Flint said the hospital had inquired about purchasing the ECBID property. “You actually have to build them a new facility at your cost,” Flint said.

Samaritan chief executive officer Teresa Sullivan was asked about a timeline, and said she didn't know. Hospital officials will be working on further studies, and pending board approval, on more detailed facility plans. Hospital officials also want to talk to hospital staff, community leaders and district patrons as part of the planning process, she said.

Once the decision is made to go ahead, it takes about a year to design the facility, and two years to build, Kunkel said. “But we're not there yet,” Kunkel said. Hospital officials still are working to decide if a new building is the solution, and if the district can afford it.

“I think we've made a lot of steps compared to where we were 10 years ago, or even five years ago,” said commissioner Joe Akers. There will be a decision, and a facility, "sooner rather than later," he said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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