Published: Sunday, June 5, 2011, 12:01 a.m.
The new medical tower at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett has redefined the city's skyline.
As Snohomish County's tallest building, at 197 feet, it is a landmark that can be spotted from the beaches of Whidbey Island and by I-5 commuters.
The public will get its first chance to tour the 12-story, $460 million medical tower next weekend, during open houses scheduled from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The hospital is preparing for thousands of people to attend, said Dave Brooks, the hospital's chief executive. It is the biggest public event before the hospital officially opens its doors on June 14.
"This is a dream for so many of us that is going to happen," Brooks said. "This community is going to be very proud of what they have."
The opening of the medical tower culminates nearly three years of construction and a tumultuous history with some of its north Everett neighbors.
The battle included a lawsuit and other legal challenges. Yard signs popped up like daises protesting demolition of the historic Donovan homes on hospital-owned land to make room for expansion. Eventually, about half of the 21 homes were demolished and half were moved to a nearby neighborhood.
Neighbors remain divided, though resigned, over the expansion.
"We have moved on; the tower has been built," said Jeanne Wohl, who lives on Lombard and can see the towering structure from her front window. Just how tall the building is depends on how you measure it. If the emergency department, some of which is below ground, is counted, it's 197 feet tall. From sod to the helicopter pad at the top of the building, it's 175 feet.
Neighborhood worries now are shifting to traffic and parking issues.
"It's like playing chicken trying to cross 13th and 14th streets heading south, especially at shift change," she said.
Hospital employees and visitors continue to park in the neighborhood, even though the hospital spent $30 million on a new parking garage, Wohl said.
Nevertheless, when asked if she planned to tour the building during the open houses scheduled this coming weekend, Wohl said: "Of course! My husband and I laugh… As we get older, we can just crawl up the hill to get services."
Architects and designers hope the new hospital building reflects the spirit of Everett and the Northwest, said Anita Rossen, who, as a senior health care interior designer for the architectural firm ZGF, has worked on the project since 2006.
See what's on each floor of the new hospital tower in our animated graphic.
"The views in the tower area are amazing," she said. "There are places in that building you can see Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, the Cascades and the Olympics. On a clear day it's beautiful -- a 360 degree view."
Designers tried to reflect the colors found in those mountain landscapes in the hues selected for the building, Rossen said.
"The ground floors are very dark and richly saturated," she said. "And then, when you get into the tower, it's very light, and softer." Patient rooms have light finished wood flooring and colors selected with the goal of evoking a restful feeling, soft creams and taupes, she said.
The splashes of lavender in the emergency department were chosen to create "a sense of calm in a high-stress area," Rossen said.
The medical tower is bathed in natural light from bottom to top. Patient rooms have large windows, many with views of mountain ranges or Puget Sound, and large frosted sliding glass doors, maintaining privacy while allowing the rooms to be filled diffuse, natural light.
Corridor lighting on patient floors will be dimmed in the evening to match the natural rhythms of day and night and to promote rest and healing.
Light fixtures used throughout the building direct light onto the ceiling and then deflect it down into rooms and hallways. The softer light prevents glare and eye fatigue. Patients being wheeled through the building's hallways on gurneys won't have to look up into eye-squinting bright, white lights.
Amidst a building that has $60 million of equipment -- including $20 million in high-tech CT and MRI scanning machines -- are 916 pieces of art.
The hospital budgeted nearly $490,000 for the paintings, watercolors, photographs and a mosaic.
Many are by Northwest artists, including James Madison of Tulalip, whose work, Glass Basket, will be displayed on the building's main floor.
Madison also was commissioned by Rossen's firm to produce a sculpture that will be displayed in the lobby.
Photographs by Dr. Kevin Pieper, medical director for women's services at Providence Physician Group, also will be displayed, including one from Mount Rainier's Paradise Meadows.
Designers had to find the balance between budget and beauty.
"When decisions were made about the quality of architecture, of course, they wanted to have a beautiful facility," Rossen said. But Providence didn't want visitors to have the perception of money spent on a "grand monument," she said.
"You often see hospitals spend lots of money on the lobby and then you go through the doors and it's white floors, white ceilings -- sterile, cold," she said.
Rossen said she can't wait to hear the public's reaction to the building during the upcoming open houses.
Some groups, including hospital employees and senior center groups, have already gotten sneak peek tours.
Rossen said one of the most common reactions she's heard can be summed up this way: "Finally, Everett is going to have a hospital whose outside matches the quality of care on the inside."
Even with a $460 million budget, some of the most intensive work toward the hospital's stated goal of making the medical tower "family and patient friendly" was done by people who didn't get paid a dime.
They were volunteers who worked with medical staff vetting nearly every inch of the building.
Every style of chair in the 12-story building was tested to answer the most basic of questions: Is it easy for people, including those with injuries or disabilities, to sit down and get up?
Every nook and cranny in patient rooms, down to details such as where electrical sockets were located and the placement of bathroom doors, was reviewed.
One of those volunteers was Nancy Mitchell. She and her husband Jim Mitchell were long-time owners of Mitchell's Pharmacy in Lake Stevens.
She had heard suggestions from customers over the years she thought might be worthwhile to incorporate into the new medical tower. "The pharmacists hear all the complaints," she said.
The hospital built mock-ups of medical-surgical, critical care and emergency department rooms.
Hospital staff and members of the hospital's citizen advisory group were asked to critique what worked and what didn't, not just once, but twice.
"I remember hundreds of stick-'em notes saying 'Have the door swing this way instead of that way,' or 'Move the oxygen connection there,' " said Brooks, the hospital's chief executive. "Our staff does their best to think of it in the eyes of the patient, but they're still the caregiver."
In the beginning, the mock-ups really were rough drafts, recalled volunteer, J. Marie Riche, who lives near Cathcart.
As tower construction progressed, drywall was installed in the mock-up rooms. Doors were hung. There were marks on the wall indicating where things such as the hand sanitizer would go in patient rooms or location of the white board for notes to and from medical staff and the family.
"Our criticisms were wicked," Mitchell recalled, chuckling. But, she said, "they do listen to us."
One person asked where flowers would go in patient rooms, she recalled. "There was no place." A shelf was added in each room for flowers.
Signs were installed to more clearly direct people to the lobby and public restrooms.
Community members complained about the view from the hallways into patient bathrooms.
The designated spot for toilets was shifted so that if the bathroom door was left ajar, and anyone walked into the room, the patient wasn't visible to those walking in the corridor.
Volunteers were asked to critique the mammoth emergency department -- nearly the size of a football field.
"They increased the size of room numbers a couple of times due to our saying we'd never find our way around," Mitchell said. "They made it user-friendly."
Committee members made suggestions to speed up the hospital's registration and check in.
"We also vetoed the recorded reminder call (for hospital check-in) in favor of a live person," said Robin Jones, who lives in unincorporated Snohomish County south of Everett.
Sundee Hack, of Marysville, said her volunteer work on the new medical tower has meant twice-a-month trips to the site for the past year.
One of her duties was participation in the "chair fair," where 70 prospective styles were tested and reviewed.
"They had us write in detail: Did we like the furniture? Was it comfortable? If you were disabled, could you get into and out of it?" she said.
Hack said she recently tried out one of the hospital beds as part of a drill to help staff prepare for the building's June 14 opening.
She found the beds could be adjusted to take pressure off hips and knees by pushing buttons on a hand-held electronic panel a little larger than a remote control device. The beds "are a little thicker, so they're not so uncomfortable to lie in," Hack said. "That was pretty nice."
Not every suggestion led to changes, volunteers acknowledged, but many did.
"I think in any industry, it's a little bit brave to let outsiders come in and see what they think you're doing right or wrong," Riche said.
"If you can make it easier for patients and families to participate in their own health care, it's better outcomes for everybody."
Mitchell said she drew upon her own experiences in the current hospital building to guide her critiques. "We've been there a lot," she said. Her husband has had ongoing problems with high blood pressure and has suffered several strokes.
The emergency room is often crowded, she said, with patients lying on gurneys in the hallways.
That will change in the new medical tower, she said.
The emergency department will have 79 single-patient treatment rooms with sliding-glass doors for privacy.
Space is set aside in each room for family members, so they won't be pushed into corners or left standing in hallways while their loved one is being cared for.
Patient rooms are single occupancy, a benefit Mitchell said she appreciates from her own experiences of her husband being hospitalized in double occupancy rooms.
"It's very difficult to be in a room… with someone who is dying," she said. "It's difficult to say, 'Well, honey, you'll be fine.'"
Mitchell said she plans on volunteering during this weekend's open houses, and hopes to lead tours through the new emergency department.
"It's been very interesting, I would say rewarding, to see something you worked on, and had input into, accomplished," she said.
The medical tower "is an imposing fixture on the skyline," Mitchell said. "People are anxious to see what's inside that building."
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or email@example.com
Tour the tower
The public will get its first chance to tour the new tower during an open house from noon to 5 p.m. June 11 and 12. The tower is at 1700 13th St. in Everett.
Pacific campus ER to close June 16
Providence Regional Medical Center Everett's emergency room at 916 Pacific Ave. is scheduled to close at 5 a.m. June 16, two days after the hospital opens its $460 million medical tower, about two miles away at 1700 13th St. For the first week after the closure of the Pacific Avenue emergency room, the hospital will have an ambulance parked out front. Crews will hand out maps to direct people to the new emergency room.
The hospital's emergency department will be consolidated at the new 13th Street building. The 67,460-square-foot emergency department will be located on its ground floor.
What's staying at Colby
About 80 hospital beds will remain in the current Colby Campus hospital building, including those for people hospitalized for cancer treatment or kidney problems. The cafeteria, chapel and gift shop will remain open in their existing locations in the Colby Campus building until remodeling can be completed near year's end.