HospitalRetention and recruitment of health care professionals – but especially retention – are two goals for PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

The local hospital’s chief administrator, Ken Tonjes spoke during this week’s Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch.

He said keeping good employees makes a difference to the care provided.

“Staff is what drives our boat,” he said. “When we have stability in our clinical staff, we’re a strong organization. When we have turnover, it challenges us.”

Hospital officials hope that the building’s new multi-million-dollar addition will help them attract good employees and keep them. That addition is almost done, with a public event set for June 25 to celebrate the expansion.

Bett Jakubek weaves around equipment and ducks under cords to fetch an item from the far side of one of Ketchikan Medical Center's operating rooms.

One of Ketchikan Medical Center’s 1960s-era operating rooms, filled beyond capacity with modern equipment. The new operating rooms are about double the size. (KRBD file photo)

“It’s 72,000 gross square feet. It’s the new surgery, sterile supply, clinics, MRI and other support: recovery area, etc.,” he said. “The $62 million funded by the bond that all of you, thank you again, voted for.”

The hospital building is owned by the City of Ketchikan, which is why the city funded the majority of the expansion costs. The State of Alaska also provided some grant money for the project, and there was some federal money, too.

Tonjes said PeaceHealth, which operates the hospital through an agreement with the city, also kicked in some capital.

“We’re slated to put in close to $9 million in capital this year, and slated to spend even a few more million next year,” he said.

While the ribbon-cutting celebration is coming up soon, Tonjes said it will still be a while before the addition will be available for patient use.

“We have to make sure this is a safe environment. So, we’re going to put the furniture in, we’re going to put the equipment in, we’re going to train our staff, we’re going to do dry runs, before we actually see a patient in those facilities,” he said.

Tonjes said that probably will happen in early fall.

Once open, the addition will house the surgery suite and will be the new location for the clinic, which has been in the Wilson Building right next to hospital.

The Wilson Building is owned by PeaceHealth, and Matt Eisenhower – who heads up the hospital’s foundation —  talked about plans for its future use. About a third of the building will become office space for employees who now have offices elsewhere, such as The Plaza mall.

They’re not yet sure how to use the rest of that space, Eisenhower said, but they’re thinking about a wellness center to help people avoid needing the hospital’s services. That might seem like a bad business plan.

“We’re not paid to keep people healthy. But that is changing,” he said. “That’s a huge landscape changing, so there’s more motivation to keep people healthy. So, we’re looking at what a community health center might look like, to have dieticians, occupational therapists, different physicians, maybe offer cooking classes in an industrial-type kitchen.”

Tonjes said that Ketchikan’s hospital is continuing to provide health care management services that previously were paid for through a grant. Like a potential wellness center, that program also aims to reduce hospital use by helping patients manage illnesses better on an outpatient basis.

Tonjes noted that the hospital’s expansion is just the first phase of a three-phase project. The next couple of phases are on hold, due to the state’s current budget crunch.