Hospitals could compete to build Eagle River emergency room

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 23:00
Plans will be considered if state rejects Providence ER expansion

On Feb. 25, a yea or nay from the State of Alaska on a proposed emergency department expansion at Providence Hospital will, indirectly, be either a thumbs up or down for a proposed emergency room in Eagle River.

Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services will approve only 14 additional emergency room beds for the Anchorage area, and it’s considering Providence’s proposal for the beds first.

The Providence plan would see an expanded emergency department at the main hospital in Anchorage, with more rooms for patients as well as a pediatric treatment area, said spokesman Mikal Canfield. The outcome would be shorter wait times and improved care, he said, adding that children would get emergency care in a “comforting, child-friendly environment” in a separate space.

“We believe this proposal is the best way to meet the emergency needs of the community and ensure any health care services a patient needs are available when they’re needed,” Canfield wrote in an email interview. “The project also helps ensure the hospital’s preparedness to serve the community in a mass trauma event.”

In contrast, Alaska Regional Hospital proposes to divide the 14 beds between two freestanding emergency departments located in Eagle River and South Anchorage. Alaska Regional CEO Julie Taylor said the plan would better serve the community’s needs, and make services available to Chugiak-Eagle River residents in case the single route to and from Anchorage becomes unpassable during a natural or other major disaster.

“The freestanding emergency department model is becoming more popular in the Lower 48,” Taylor said. “It provides a solid way to keep healthcare close to home and, in particular, emergency-level services – which is important when patients are having acute episodes that need immediate attention.”

She added that, unlike health clinics, emergency departments are open 24 hours a day, and are required by law to provide patients with care regardless of their ability to pay.

Providence Hospital already has an imaging center in Eagle River, which is housed in the Providence Medical Building, along with private offices such as Allen Dental Group, Primary Care Associates Urgent Care Center, and LaTouche Pediatrics.

After the State of Alaska released its data identifying Anchorage’s emergency room service needs through 2022, it received a proposal from Providence first.

“We were not aware they submitted this certificate of need,” Taylor said, “because of a breakdown in the process of notification to other hospitals in the area. We’d been developing a strategy for ERs.”

By the time Alaska Regional became aware of Providence’s application in October 2014, Taylor said, it was too late for the hospital to submit a proposal that could be considered side-by-side.

Instead, the state is reviewing Providence’s proposal alone, with consideration given to potential alternatives.

Taylor said Alaska Regional has been trying to drum up public support for its plan, to put pressure on DHSS to give it serious consideration as an alternative while it’s reviewing the Providence plan.

In December 2014, Alaska Regional submitted its own application for a certificate of need, a necessary step in getting state approval for a hospital’s services expansion. Since then, Providence has submitted a letter of intent indicating it might apply for a certificate of need for two freestanding emergency departments as well, if its proposal under review is not accepted.

If DHSS commissioner Valerie Davidson rejects the Providence plan on Feb. 25, a date will be set for a public comments period on the Alaska Regional plan.

The Providence emergency department expansion plan under review would cost $12.8 million to build, and is estimated to be completed by Dec. 31, 2017. The Alaska Regional plan for two freestanding emergency rooms would cost $29.4 million and would be completed during spring 2016.