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David Lee Pitcher, 66, died peacefully July 18, 2014, in Ketchikan following a heart attack and complications of multiple system atrophy.
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12/1/2012
Hospital project vital

Quality hospitals don't happen by accident.

Just like the new swimming pool, library and fire station didn't come about by accident.

Neither is Ketchikan Shipyard lining up to build the Alaska Class Ferries by accident nor the City of Ketchikan rebuilding its port by accident. It took more than an accident to construct the Swan Lake/Lake Tyee Hydroelectric Intertie on which much of the community depends for energy.

But when actual accidents happen, in most cases, it's imperative that the Ketchikan Medical Center can respond effectively.

The community's top capital item for the 2013 legislative session is KMC's addition and alterations project.

The $76-million City of Ketchikan project will be completed in phases, with the city seeking $20 million from the state this session for Phase One. The total cost of Phase One is expected to be $58 million.

That's a chunk of dough. The mention of it has raised the blood pressures of the fiscally cautious. However, it will rise higher for the city's economy if the state doesn't fund the project.

That's because Ketchikan needs its hospital. It needs the business. It needs the more than 400 jobs and $27.5-million payroll, and it needs the health care provided within its walls most of all.

Please, don't underestimate its importance to Ketchikan's well-being. Imagine the community without it, or without the array of services it provides.

As frustrating as dealing with a hospital bill can be, it would add insult to injury if the services weren't available here. For some, that would mean no service; for others, it might translate into an unaffordable trip north or south for care.

Even for those who have access to health care elsewhere, when its an emergency, KMC is the only Ketchikan hospital and the best hospital within about 600 miles. When something hurts, when the bleeding won't stop, that's a lot of ground to cover and time to agonize before seeing a doctor.

Imagine what the lack of a viable hospital would mean in Ketchikan. (Viability is a critical issue in a time of quickly evolving health care and competition among providers struggling to survive in a rapidly changing industry). The direct job loss, as well as the indirect losses, would be a difficult pill to swallow.

The crux of the KMC project is new regulations and technology.

The nearly 50-year-old hospital building must stay current with existing and undeniably forthcoming regulations; a challenging task as the building ages.

Plus, new advances and technology simply demand better space, particularly in the surgical suites.

This is no small matter to the hospital, which provides the most extensive service available for a population of about 35,000 in southern Southeast Alaska as well as visitors.

Its effectiveness and efficiency is dependent on appropriate space in which to provide care. Physicians have too much riding on being effective to marginalize their success by joining a hospital staff that doesn't keep up with the times. For that matter, so do nurses and others employed by the hospital.

Patients also will shy away from hospitals not staying current. If one is to pay for hospital care, then one will want state-of-the-art services.

Ketchikan has highly qualified physicians. The 20 based in Ketchikan include obstetrics and gynecology doctors as well as orthopedic and general surgeons. A variety of out-of-community doctors also establish schedules through the hospital, allowing them to provide ophthalmology, plastic surgery, cardiology, gastroenterology and urology care; the space at the hospital needs to be enhanced to accommodate the special clinics, and increase efficiencies.

The City Council has approved a plan for a 75,000-square-foot, three-story addition to accommodate the surgical and clinical services as well as remodeling of the existing services area and additional parking.

The new surgery area would consist of three operating suites, one room for minor procedures, one room for gastrointestinal care, patient-holding stations and a supply room.

The new general surgery and orthopedic clinics would be on the same floor as the surgery suites. Offices for family practice, internal medicine, OB/GYN and psychiatry would be located on the floor above.

The project would expand parking by 50 spaces.

This addition and alterations project will improve effectiveness and efficiencies. New efficiencies will help keep ever-increasing health care costs lower than they might be without the opportunities presented by the project. From the perspective of patients faced with paying the bills or affording insurance that at least pays them in part, that likely would weigh heavily in lending support for the hospital enhancements.

Construction documents are being prepared by NAC Architecture of Seattle, at the request of the Council, and paid for by $4 million in state and federal grants. Phase One of the project could go to bid in 2013, if the state comes through with the $20 million.

Then the city would seek voter approval for a $38 million bond, using the existing hospital sales tax to pay off the debt for Phase One. A special election could occur after the upcoming session.

This project is vital to Ketchikan, which is why it is at the top of the priority list.

For full disclosure, Ketchikan Daily News Co-Publisher Tena Williams serves on the KMC Governing Board.