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King County-owned hospital identifies challenges as expansion project continues

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(The Center Square) – King County-owned Harborview Medical Center in Seattle is dealing with challenges related to patient capacity and finances as its expansion plans comes along.

According to Harborview Medical Center CEO Sommer Kleweno Walley, the hospital was expected to lose around $63 million in the current fiscal year, but is now facing a $32 million loss.

The hospital is budgeted for a maximum of 500 patients per day, but according to Kleweno Walley, there has become a sharp fluctuation in daily patients with a range of 470 to 540 per day.

“That is a really hard thing to figure out how you ensure that we are providing the kind of stability [patients] need,” Kleweno Walley said at Tuesday’s King County Council Committee of the Whole meeting.

The Harborview Medical Center is owned and funded by King County, but is governed by the Harborview Board of Trustees and managed under contract by the University of Washington.

The hospital is the only Level 1 adult and pediatric trauma center in Washington state, which provides specialized emergency services to patients throughout the region and serves as the disaster preparedness and disaster control hospital for Seattle and King County.

In fact, the Harborview Medical Center is the only Level 1 trauma center serving a five-state region of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington.

Over the last six to nine months, the Harborview Medical Center has been able to achieve $56.4 million in ongoing operational efficiencies, according to a presentation at Tuesday’s King County Council Committee of the Whole meeting. Top contributors to the medical center’s operational efficiencies include length of stay improvements ($17.4 million), revenue cycle improvements ($30.4 million), and recruitment and retention ($1.8 million).

Over the last year, Harborview has also been able to reduce patient length of stay from an average of 11 or 12 days to approximately nine days.

Another positive within the Harborview Medical Center is the vacancy rate among registered nurses has gone from almost 14% to 2.4% in January. Unregistered nurse vacancy within the hospital are also gone down from 10% to 3.4%.

Kleweno Walley said that improvements to vacancy rates are impressive because they go against national trends of vacancy rates in other health systems across the nation.

In November 2020, King County voters approved issuing up to $1.7 billion in phased bond funding over 20 years for improvements at Harborview Medical Center.

Improvements include a new clinic in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, a new 10-story tower to add an additional 224 beds, renovations of older hospital spaces, and expansion of county spaces located in older hospital facilities.

Last year, consultants updated the cost study of the medical center’s expansion and identified a funding gap of $888 million.

Construction on the Harborview Medical Center expansion is set for 2026 with the new tower anticipated to be occupied in late-2028.