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Alaska has plenty of laws and regulations to deal with mine development.

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Letty Eileen Cole, 93, died on Oct. 15, 2014, in Ketchikan.
Susan Marie Mallott Patrick, 58, died Oct. 11, 2014, in Ketchikan.
9/28/2013
Building needed

City voters decide Tuesday the quality of their hospital.

Vote yes, and the city-owned hospital building will be brought into the 21st century.

Vote no, and it stays in the 1960s when it originally was built to accommodate that era's medicine.

That's an era before a TV-in-every-home, remote control, DVDs and Apple TV, when people went to movies more often than uploading them to their computers and entertainment centers. Back then Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara starred in "Spencer's Mountain" at the Coliseum Theatre. Over at the Revilla, the other Ketchikan theater, "Bye Bye Birdie" featured Janet Leigh, Dick Van Dyke, Ann Margret and Maureen Stapleton.

Pacific Northern Airlines provided one jet flight a day from Ketchikan to Seattle. A ticket cost $47, plus tax, from Annette Island from where the jet departed. Ketchikan didn't have an airport back then.

A postage stamp to mail a letter — no email then — cost 4 cents, a candy bar 5 cents, a dozen eggs or gallon of milk less than 50 cents, and a car's gas tank could be filled at the bargain-basement price of 30 cents per gallon.

In that same era, the City of Ketchikan built a new $2.1-million building to house its hospital.

Forty patients moved in on Oct. 9, 1963, almost exactly 50 years ago.

Ketchikan Fire Department Capt. Gerald Sirevog oversaw the transport of patients from the old Bawden Street location, through downtown, over Water Street and Second Avenue to Jefferson Street, up to Third Avenue and down Third to Tongass and the hospital's new location. Ambulances owned by the city and Ketchikan Pulp Company, U.S. Coast Guard vehicles and privately owned station wagons assisted. Police cruisers escorted the ambulances over freshly graded roads for an as-smooth-as-possible patient experience.

The move was scheduled to take place over two hours.

Since then the Bawden Street building became a threat to public safety as it sagged and threatened to collapse; it was leveled a year ago.

The "new" hospital is 50 years old, and while much of it has been well preserved, it has seen five decades of wear and tear. Just like a 1960s rotary telephone cannot compare to the variety of current smartphones with instant messaging to name only one of their many amazing capabilities.

And just like households no longer buy the black-and-white TVs of decades past, neither can the hospital utilize equipment of that period. New, efficient equipment that assists physicians to achieve better patient outcomes is needed, and the hospital needs new up-to-date space that can accommodate it.

That's not to say that the hospital ought to be replaced in total. It can be remodeled where appropriate.

But the surgical suites cannot be shut down for a time-intensive remodel. Not only do Ketchikan patients need surgery, but surgeries are a significant factor in the hospital's financial well-being.

New surgical suites need to be constructed outside of the existing hospital space. Then the old suites can be remodeled for other purposes. A new building with surgical space also can accommodate the need for offices for doctors clinics and improve efficiencies related to space, helping to contain costs. In a day-and-age with cost containment a herculean challenge, this makes economical sense.

The state has contributed $18 million for the Your Health, Your Future renovation and expansion project. PeaceHealth, the corporation that operates the hospital for the city, has promised at least $8 million to equip the new facility, and the city is asking voters to approve a $43 million bond. The bond would be repaid using the existing hospital sales tax.

Ketchikan needs that bond in order to stay up with the times in terms of health care. It's a matter of receiving health care in a building with new equipment, where physicians believe they have the facility necessary to do their best — or where they don't. Finally, it comes down to what the community wants when it needs to go to the hospital for care.

Ketchikan should want an economically viable hospital with modern equipment and procedures. This bond gets us there.

The author of this editorial, Tena Williams, serves as a volunteer member of the Ketchikan Medical Center governing board and on the PeaceHealth NorthWest Committee.