In a nearly empty maternity wing, Chief Administrative Officer Renée Jensen talks about how it has been almost nine years since east-county mothers could give birth at EvergreenHealth Monroe on Monday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

In a nearly empty maternity wing, Chief Administrative Officer Renée Jensen talks about how it has been almost nine years since east-county mothers could give birth at EvergreenHealth Monroe on Monday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Monroe hospital vies for maternity ward, updated systems

A levy lift would reopen the childbirth wing at EvergreenHealth Monroe. It closed in 2011.

MONROE — It’s been eight years since east Snohomish County mothers could give birth at the hospital in Monroe.

The maternity ward there was shut down in 2011 as a last-ditch effort to turn around Valley General Hospital’s finances.

Now, EvergreenHealth Monroe is campaigning to reopen and revamp the space through a levy lift.

The measure on the April 23 ballot would raise the levy from 27 to 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value. For the owner of a $400,000 home, the new rate would increase the annual tax from $108 to $188.

If approved, the lift would bring in an estimated $4 million annually for the next six years. There are 71,979 registered voters in the taxing district known as Snohomish County Public Hospital District 1, which ties into the King County-based EvergreenHealth system.

The lift would also allow the hospital to replace aging emergency room equipment and to update its electronic medical records system.

Maternity ward redo

In the absence of a maternity ward in Monroe, women from east county have traveled to EvergreenHealth’s Kirkland location or to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Sometimes they don’t make it, and end up giving birth in the Monroe emergency room.

The hospital never repurposed the maternity ward with hopes it would eventually reopen, chief administrative officer Renee Jensen said.

“Just because you live in a less densely populated community doesn’t mean you should get a lesser quality of care,” she said.

On Monday, the wing sat empty. A few florescent lights illuminated the hallway, which is serving as a storage space. The hospital sometimes uses the area for employee trainings, Jensen said.

If the lift passes, Jensen said she hopes to “bring the home to the hospital.”

Starting with the retro powder-blue wallpaper, which she said will be the first to go.

Each of the unit’s five rooms has a balcony, enclosed by a privacy fence and lined by flowering bushes and plants.

“It’s a different component to healing and wellness you can’t get inside the walls of a building,” Jensen said.

She hopes to convert a former nursery room to a family space, so loved ones can skip the waiting room during labor.

Babies aren’t a money-making business for any hospital, Jensen said. Getting the maternity ward up and running will cost $3 million, and it might never be profitable. But it’s not about revenue.

“It’s about the health of the system and making sure the hospital continues to stay here,” she said.

EvergreenHealth doctors who deliver babies have to live near where the children are born. As it stands, that makes it difficult to recruit specialists to Monroe, because they’d have to live in Kirkland or Everett, Jensen said.

The ability to deliver babies in-house would allow the hospital to attract doctors and to retain patients who want to continue seeing the same provider.

If the levy lift passes, the hospital will have the only full-service maternity ward between Monroe and Wenatchee, Jensen said.

EvergreenHealth Monroe’s CT machine is also nearing the end of its life. It’s currently down the hall from the ER, but a new machine would be be installed in the ER. A new machine would also reduce scan time from 25 minutes to about eight. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

EvergreenHealth Monroe’s CT machine is also nearing the end of its life. It’s currently down the hall from the ER, but a new machine would be be installed in the ER. A new machine would also reduce scan time from 25 minutes to about eight. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Emergency room changes

The levy lift would allow the hospital to replace its MRI and CT machines, which are nearing the end of their lives, diagnostic imaging manager Fawn Poblocki said.

“We’re at the no-more-parts stage,” Poblocki said. “They don’t make them anymore.”

The hospital would also shuffle office space to bring the equipment into the emergency room, where it is needed most often.

Right now, the MRI machine is across the parking lot from the emergency room. Patients are first taken to the ER to be stabilized before being transported across the lot — either in a wheelchair or an ambulance. After the scan, they’re taken back to the ER.

A new machine would reduce scan time from 25 minutes to about eight, Poblocki said.

The hospital’s CT machine is roughly 20 years old. It’s currently down the hall from the ER.

In addition, newer technology includes metal suppression, meaning patients with surgical implants can use the machine.

New records system

If passed, the levy lift would enable EvergreenHealth Monroe to update its electronic medical records system. The change would allow better communication with other hospitals.

Now, if Monroe needs to send a patient to Harborview, nurses have to print the paperwork and send it in the ambulance. The new system would send that information digitally.

Patients will also have a “patient portal” with the new system, where they can better track their care online, Jensen said.

The records switch would begin in 2019 and be completed by 2020, she said.

Ballots for the April election were mailed Thursday.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

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