Ketchikan’s community hospital just grew by about 70,000 square feet. The city-owned hospital, which is operated by PeaceHealth, celebrated the completion of a major addition this weekend with a barbecue and tours of the new space.
Space was a recurring theme of the PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center celebration. Now there’s space for sick kids to wait for the doctor in a separate room; space for a psychiatric patient to wait privately for an appointment; space dedicated to putting on and removing casts; and space for all the complicated equipment needed for a surgery.
That last item is a biggie. The hospital’s surgery suite was state of the art when it was built in the 1960s, but a lot has changed since then.
Hospital surgery manger Kimm Schwartz was all smiles during the tour. Standing in one of the new procedure rooms, she said the new surgery suite will change everything for the better.
“I’m near tears. Seriously,” she said. “I just look around and I can think ahead right now of how we’re going to utilize this space. I can’t wait until our team is in here and we’re practicing, because we don’t even know our work flow yet. This is so big. I got lost in here this morning. This is really so different. So different. It’s 100-percent different from what we’re used to.”
In Operating Room 3, the biggest OR in the new suite, a large photograph shows the cramped conditions of the old operating rooms. Hospital Foundation Director Matt Eisenhower points out how the ’60s-era OR is crammed with modern equipment.
“So, almost all of these pieces of equipment that you see in this picture are going to be hung from the ceiling, which allows for efficiency of space as well as a sterile field, which is very important in an operating room,” he said.
The rooms throughout the addition echoed because they’re still empty. While construction is complete, the furnishings and most of the equipment have not yet been moved in. And then, as Schwartz mentioned, employees need to practice in their new digs and figure out how to work in such a large space.
“We’re so used to functioning now where, we can just yell at each other,” she said. “I said, ‘We’re going to have to get (walkie talkies),’ because if we’re way over there – right now, we’re just feet apart. Now you’re way out there. To communicate with these guys in here, we’re either going to have to call them or have a walkie talkie.”
It’s not just new space; there’s some new equipment, too. One piece is a digital X-raym machine that sends images wirelessly, and in mere seconds, to the rest of the equipment. A new MRI – magnetic resonance imaging – machine also will be installed in the new hospital area.
Another addition to the hospital is the ever-scarce and ever-important parking. Underneath the new space is a single-level parking garage with room for about 50 vehicles. That’s where the ribbon-cutting ceremony and barbecue took place.
Sister Andrea Nenzel chairs the PeaceHealth system board, and gave a little history of Ketchikan’s partnership with the Sisters of St. Joseph, who were asked in 1922 to staff a new hospital here.
“The sisters gave an enthusiastic response by sending three young sisters to run Little Flower Hospital in what seemed to them a very remote island in far off Alaska,” she said.
Nenzel said health care in Ketchikan has always been about neighbor helping neighbor, and that cooperative spirit is what made the hospital upgrade possible.
The hospital building is owned by the City of Ketchikan, which funded the majority of the expansion’s $62 million construction cost through a voter-approved bond package. City Mayor Lew Williams III told the gathering that the city values the hospital as a way to diversify and stabilize the local economy.
“And we always want to keep it up to date and something that people in this region will utilize, and that all affects us and our economics and just people wanting to live here – people can enjoy living a wonderful life in Ketchikan,” he said.
As the ceremony came to a close, Ketchikan Indian Community Board President Irene Dundas told the group that PeaceHealth was a good partner to KIC, too, and expands health care offered through the tribe’s clinic.
She had a gift for the hospital: A drum with a painting of a medicine man healing a patient. Dundas and some of her family members sang a song with the help of that drum, in honor of the new hospital space.