A plan for a new mental hospital in Tacoma proposed by the city’s two largest health care systems is better than a California company’s hospital proposal because the local players are better connected to the health care community in Pierce County, the state Department of Health says.
In awarding a certificate of need Jan. 15 to the Alliance for South Sound Health, the department also said the alliance’s plan to build the 120-bed mental health facility on the grounds of Allenmore Hospital was less risky than Signature Health Care Services’ plan to build its hospital on a vacant parcel farther west on South 19th Street.
The Alliance is a partnership between MultiCare Health System and CHI Franciscan Health, Tacoma’s dominant health care providers. MultiCare’s hospitals include Tacoma General Hospital, Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center, Puyallup’s Good Samaritan Hospital, Auburn Medical Center and Allenmore. CHI Franciscan’s portfolio of health care facilities includes St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor, St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Enumclaw, Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton and Highline Medical Center in Burien.
Signature Health Care Services, based in California, operates 13 mental health hospitals across the nation.
The two both applied last year for certificates of need to build a new mental health hospital in Pierce County. The alliance proposed a 120-bed facility. Signature asked for permission to build a 174-bed hospital but said it would reduce its size to 120 beds if the state gave both entities a certificate of need.
That shortage of beds for mental health treatment in the county has forced local hospitals to hold mental health patients in normal hospital units without specialized treatment.
In its lengthy decision, the Department of Health said that both proposals met most of the standards needed to qualify for state permission to build a hospital.
What caused the alliance proposal to be ranked above Signature’s was the partnership’s access to a full continuum of both medical and psychiatric resources.
The two health care systems had gathered considerable support from Pierce County’s medical, civic and governmental communities.
“The existing inpatient medical and psychiatric services provided by MHS/CHI-FH will enable Alliance to more immediately develop relationships in the community to contribute to more efficient and effective development of the necessary inpatient medical and behavioral health support services,” the department wrote in its decision. “Alliance contends this is a strength of their application, and this contention is supported by the public testimony submitted by independent organizations and interested persons in the community.”
CHI-Franciscan operates Pierce County’s only local mental health care facility, a 23-bed unit at St. Joseph Hospital. MultiCare has received state approval to convert 30 acute care beds at Tacoma General to psychiatric care beds for juveniles.
Signature had contended its experience in operating mental health facilities in several states gave it the edge in treating patients.
In issuing the certificate, the department said the Allenmore site at South 19th Street and Union Avenue was potentially a better and more easily developed site than the one that Signature had procured near Snake Lake Park. That site will need to undergo environmental and land-use assessments before construction can begin.
“The location of the Alliance project on an existing hospital campus will promote more immediate development of their project and provides superior access to medical services over the Signature project,” the state said.
At Allenmore, MultiCare has plans to raze an older medical office building whose site could become the location for the new hospital. The alliance has projected that the new hospital could open in 2018.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663