MultiCare and CHI Franciscan, the South Sound’s two regional health care giants, continue to ask local, state and federal governments for money to build a badly needed psychiatric hospital in Tacoma even as a private company battles the partnership’s ability to move forward.
An administrative review judge for the state Department of Health in September upheld the awarding of a certificate of need for the facility to the MultiCare-Franciscan alliance.
Judge John Kuntz said that while the alliance and Michigan-based Signature Healthcare Services, a for-profit company, had viable proposals, the MultiCare-Franciscan plan should get the nod because the two health care providers enjoy “established local support.”
“The existence of local support improves patient access to those services,” Kuntz wrote in his opinion, which was generated by Signature’s appeal of a previous decision by the Health Department awarding the certificate to MultiCare-Franciscan.
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On Oct. 20, Signature appealed Kuntz’s decision, said Sharon Moysiuk, a Health Department spokeswoman.
Signature continues to believe the alliance proposal is flawed and that at minimum the state should give the alliance and Signature permission to build psychiatric hospitals in Pierce County, attorney Gregory McBroom, who represents Signature, told The News Tribune on Thursday.
“That would actually be the best for the community,” he said, adding that the more psychiatric beds the better in a county whose mentally ill population has been chronically underserved.
Tim Thompson is a local marketing and management consultant hired to help the MultiCare-Franciscan alliance and an advocacy group called the South Sound Behavioral Health Coalition lobby for public and private money to help build the hospital.
Thompson said Thursday the alliance and coalition are moving forward with plans to open a 120-bed hospital on the Allenmore Hospital campus in Tacoma in early 2018.
“We have a certificate of need, so we’re moving forward,” he said. “There is no change in our schedule.”
One of Signature’s arguments was that the MultiCare-Franciscan alliance changed course on its funding plan for the hospital after the state gave it an initial go-ahead to build the facility.
The alliance told state officials during the application process that it had enough cash on hand to pay for the more than $40 million, 120-bed hospital.
Later, with the help of the South Sound Behavioral Health Coalition, the Multicare-Franciscan alliance began seeking financial support for the project from local, state and federal governments, and private donors.
Kuntz rejected Signature’s argument as irrelevant.
On the day before Signature’s appeal was filed, representatives of the MultiCare-Franciscan alliance and its supporters appeared before the Pierce County Council to ask for financial backing for the hospital.
“We can’t pull it off without help,” said Brad Cheney, a businessman who is co-chairman of South Sound Behavioral Health Coalition, a group trying to help the MultiCare-Franciscan alliance raise money for the more than $40 million project.
Thompson told the County Council that while some local governments, including Tacoma and Auburn, have pledged money for the project, others were waiting to see what the county will do before following suit.
Tacoma has included $1.5 million in its proposed 2017 budget and Auburn has pledged $400,000.
“My plea with you is we have a whole lot of jurisdictions who are waiting on the county’s response to this because they are looking for some nod from the county that you, too, will participate in this effort,” Thompson told County Council members.
Thompson said Thursday the county’s support is crucial.
“This is a community crisis. It requires a community response,” he said. “I’m still hopeful they are going to commit to this.”
The proposed 2017 county budget does not earmark money specifically for the hospital.
County communications director Libby Catalinich said the County Council was considering the proposal as part of its budgeting process.
Council Chairman Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, said the county is researching whether money from a proposed one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to fund mental health needs could be used for capital projects such as the hospital.
If so and the council ultimately votes to approve the tax, Richardson said he at least will support giving money to the project.