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Samaritan Healthcare officials still committed to new hospital project

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | November 2, 2020 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — While Samaritan Healthcare officials are re-examining their forecasts for future hospital use and how that would affect finances, the plans to build a new Samaritan hospital are going ahead.

Hospital officials had applied for about $98 million in funding, the bulk of the project cost, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but Samaritan’s application was rejected last month. Hospital commissioner Dale Paris said the funding options will be reviewed, but a new hospital is still in the works.

“We’re definitely not dropping the project,” Paris said Friday. “It’s our intent to see this through.”

Paris’ position was echoed by Chief Executive Officer Theresa Sullivan. “We are still fully committed to the project,” Sullivan said.

While district officials know a new hospital will be built, “What we don’t know is, will it (the hospital design) change or won’t it?” Sullivan said. The final financing package, and the interest costs attached, will be important factors in determining the size and scope of the design, she said.

Hospital commissioners authorized a new financial feasibility study of the project at the Oct. 28 commission meeting. Sullivan said a new feasibility study was necessary, no matter how the new hospital ends up being financed, due to the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Like all other hospitals statewide, Samaritan was ordered by state officials to defer what they designated as non-essential treatment. That order was in place from late March through mid-May. The impact of the closure varied from medical facility to medical facility. At Samaritan, it meant suspending most surgeries and a lot of outpatient services, diagnostic imaging and lab work. Sullivan said there’s no way to make up for the lost revenue.

Commissioners didn’t ask district patrons for a construction bond, because the 2018 feasibility study said it wouldn’t be necessary. The USDA suggested the hospital consider submitting a bond proposal to district patrons. Sullivan said part of the feasibility study will be to determine if the conclusions reached in 2018 are still valid. “Of course, they (lenders) want hard data,” Paris said.

Hospital officials are considering reapplying for a smaller USDA loan and making up the difference by issuing construction bonds that don’t need voter approval. Commissioners also have the option of applying to banks and other private partners for all of the funding. But Kelly Arduino, of the accounting and consulting firm Wipfli, said during the Oct. 28 meeting that both of those options would be more expensive in terms of interest costs.

Hospital commissioners approved the construction of a new 50-bed hospital in 2018, and Sullivan said the conditions that prompted that decision are still the same. Moses Lake and Grant County are growing, and Samaritan is offering more services to accommodate that growth. That requires room for more medical professionals and more patients, and the current hospital isn’t big enough, Sullivan said. In addition, remodeling the existing hospital to meet current standards would cost about as much as a new hospital, she said.

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