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The culmination of Northwest Hospital's turnaround came in 1982, when the new tower was dedicated.
The long-range planning committee began looking at hospital expansion in earnest in 1976, when it became obvious that the hospital had outgrown its space. The Planned Unit Development plans of the early 1970's would have to be updated so that the hospital could make its case to the Washington State Hospital Commission for an increase in its growth-and-development budget and to obtain a Certificate of Need.
With that in mind, the board retained Medical Planning Associates to prepare a complete study, including a master site plan, and help draft the Certificate of Need and Environmental Impact Statement required to gain approval from federal, state, and city authorities.
In January 1978, the board chose Waldron, Pomeroy, Polk and Smith of Seattle and hospital-design experts Caudill, Rowlett and Scott of Houston, Texas, as architects. Roberta Wightman would once again plan landscaping around the new building.
Planning and approvals took two years. The ground-breaking on September 17, 1980 coincided with the hospital's 20th anniversary. Dr. Reuben Nelson spoke, as did Torchy Torrance; John Heinz, president of the board of trustees; Jim Hart; Richard Patton, M.D., chief of staff; Ludwig Lobe, chairman of the Washington State Hospital Commission; and Roger Jones, acting president of the Northwest Hospital Foundation. Winnie Hageman was honored for her 20 continuous years of service as a trustee. John Larson, the first baby born at the hospital; Bob Donham, a former Boston Celtic and recovered Stroke Center patient; and Lois Stroup, president of the Northwest Hospital Auxiliary, broke ground.
Sadly, Dr. Lindsay Gould, who had given so much to the hospital, had passed away just two months earlier at the age of 75.
Construction went smoothly, even with a several-week strike of concrete-truck drivers: Sellen Construction finished the building a month ahead of schedule and under budget.
Fortunately, the tower was being built on unoccupied ground, so there was minimal disruption of hospital services, but it was going up within 20 feet of the intensive care unit. "Can you imagine doctors trying to hear a heartbeat while within 15 feet of [them] there's one of these big earth-movers chopping through blacktop and hard pan?!" asked then-Plant Operations Manager Dave Scott.
The solution to the problem was two-fold. The first part was the obvious one: move patients out of intensive care as soon as safely possible, so that there would be "a minimal number of people who were subjected to this horrendous noise," explained Mr. Scott. The second and not-so-obvious part was to wedge mattresses against the windows. Not pretty, but effective!
Building the tower was "a very, very enjoyable experience," Mr. Scott said, and well worth the effort. "It was just what the hospital needed. It gave it that finesse."
When it was opened in 1982, the $16-million, five-story, 130,000-square-foot tower doubled the square footage of the hospital, but the number of acute-care beds remained the same at 194. Patients were moved from other wings into the tower's private rooms and the vacated space used for administrative and support personnel.
Private rooms were not an extravagance, but a new idea in patient care. When the original hospital was built, the "new theory," according to Peggy Miller, was that patients needed the company, but that has changed, and the tower had private rooms.
Dr. Philip Sauntry was glad to see private rooms. "That was something I have always favored," he said. "The patients like it so much better. When you're real sick you don't want to be in a room with somebody else with their relatives storming in and out."
He's not convinced private rooms are much more expensive, either. Some patients "do so much better in a private room that they're out of the hospital more quickly, so it pays off," Dr. Sauntry said.
In addition to medical and surgical nursing floors, the tower houses new intensive and coronary care units, an expanded clinical laboratory, radiology, ultrasound, nuclear medicine, a new emergency department, new public lobby, auditorium, and facilities for receiving and storage.
Despite health care industry predictions that hospitals in general would experience little or no growth during the 1980s, it didn't take long before Northwest Hospital was outgrowing its new tower.
In 1988 Northwest Hospital began to develop a Major Institution Master Plan in conjunction with the City of Seattle and a specially appointed Master Plan Advisory Committee composed of neighbors, community leaders and business persons. The objective of the Master Planning process is the development of a comprehensive ten- to fifteen-year plan which considers the long-range facility needs of Northwest Hospital's 33-acre campus not only in terms of medical buildings but also in terms of parking, landscaping, pedestrian access, and traffic impacts.
The Master Plan proposes a twin tower designed as a mirror image of the Tower completed in 1982. Construction of the twin tower will accommodate more patient beds as well as new state-of-the-art surgical and diagnostic facilities. Also included in the Master Plan are specialty facilities for cancer care, office space for physicians who require proximity to the hospital facilities, and one or more badly needed parking garages.
Approval of the Master Plan by the Seattle City Council is anticipated sometime during 1991.
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