Walking in to the new Summit Pacific Medical Center in Elma, one thing is clear: We’re not in Mark Reed Hospital anymore.
The McCleary facility has served the Mark Reed Hospital District admirably these past 56 years, growing and providing services beyond what it was built for and then some.
“(Staff) delivered phenomenal health care in McCleary with what they had. … Now they have the ability to go above and beyond,” CEO Renee Jensen said.
The hospital district rolled out the red carpet — literally — for curious neighbors to get their first look inside the modern new facility Friday. Summit Pacific is a long way from the grassroots effort that built Mark Reed; No sewing groups made these curtains or surgical gowns.
“This is cool,” Congressman Derek Kilmer exclaimed during his keynote address. “It’s brand new. It’s even got that new-car smell when you walk in the door.”
The facility is sleek without being cold, with many design choices made by Jensen, Chief Nursing Officer Brenda West and other staff. Rough stone tiles cover all the public areas, with patient or staff areas delineated by linoleum flooring. Recessed lighting, warm-toned wood surfaces and solid-colored accent walls help give the place a warm, welcoming feel, far from the antiseptic, fluorescent look some hospitals can have.
“It looks mighty nice,” Ellsworth Curran said. Now 96, Curran was the first hospital district commission chairman, and remembers opening Mark Reed Hospital on Nov. 4, 1956. At that time, both Elma General Hospital and McCleary General Hospital had been closed for a year, so he remembers feeling relief at having a hospital available to the area. Curran also spent 20 years working for the hospital’s foundation.
He praised the efforts of Jensen and the current hospital district board in seeking out a $21.1 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bring the much-needed update to the hospital.
“I think they did a fabulous job. They were very resourceful in taking a different tack,” he said.
Cutting the ribbon
After breaking ground just more than a year ago, the district cut the ribbon on Summit Pacific in front of an audience of about 150 people.
The persistant drizzle stopped long enough for the outdoor portion of the ceremony. The Madigan Army Medical Center Color Guard Team presented the flag, Aberdeen VFW post commander Jim Daly sang the national anthem and hospital employee Betty Pierce said a prayer.
Numerous speakers commended the work of Jensen and her staff.
“I really think we owe great thanks to Renee and her team for what they accomplished,” Hospital District Commissioner Louie Figueroa said.
Commissioner Amy Thomason said under Jensen, Mark Reed had gone from mere hours worth of cash-on-hand to 57 days or more. She said she had been reluctant for years to join the commission because of the tenuous finances.
“I didn’t see much hope for Mark Reed, and I didn’t want to be a part of the board that had to make the difficult but necessary decision to close,” she said.
Eventually, nostalgia won out, she said. Like many in the community, she and her brother were born in Mark Reed, her father died there, her mother got well there, and she visited many friends and relatives receiving care there over the years.
What wound up saving the hospital, she said, was “an energetic and passionate CEO who probably didn’t know what she was getting into.”
Since joining the district in 2007, Thomason noted Jensen had gotten engaged, planned a wedding and had a baby.
“And in her time she built a brand new medical center,” Thomason said, to laughter from the audience. Good humor and excitement with just a bit of nostalgia seemed to be coming from everywhere on Friday.
She also gave a welcome to the staff who would be filling the new hospital.
“You are and always have been the ones who save lives, ” Thomason said. “You hold Mark Reed together, sometimes with duct tape and bubble gum.”
Kilmer congratulated the hospital district’s leadership for creating the new facility without increasing property taxes, and those people who helped by donating and making the USDA loan a reality.
“It takes a village to build a new facility like this,” he said. “I’m inspired by the work of this community and the people in this room.”
The benefits reach beyond the medical, Kilmer noted, with economic reverberations throughout the community. Construction jobs were created during the building process, and now more jobs are secured by opening the facility.
Patricia Paul, president of the Elma Chamber of Commerce, added, “It’s nice to have a facility like this to attract new business.”
The technological improvements and expansion should help attract doctors to the area, Kilmer said, always one of the many challenges in rural medicine.
Mario Villanueva, state director of USDA Rural Development, highlighted the updates, which include 31 miles of IT cabling, backup systems, expanded electronic medical imaging archives, a 6,000 gallon fuel tank for its emergency generator and a state-of-the-art robotics system.
“The robot is connected with neurologists in Olympia,” he said.
A look inside
Summit Pacific has 10 in-patient rooms, which may seem small for a 42,000-square-foot hospital, but Jensen said the service expansions are limited by the hospital’s critical access license — if it expanded too much, she explained, they would have to change their operating license.
Aside from that, “Only the really, really sick patients are there,” she said. People who need specialized care should continue to seek it at hospitals that do that work on a daily basis.
“We need to stay true to what rural medicine is good at,” Jensen said — mainly preventative care and outpatient procedures.
Ten emergency and trauma rooms provide privacy for urgent medical care, and exam rooms create a space for patients to get minor procedures like stitches privately, as well.
Several elements incorporate the innovations of staff. One patient room has two beds, Jensen said, in case, for example, a husband and wife are in an accident.
One patient room is extra-large for patients with mobility issues, and features a harness with a continuous lift to the room’s bathroom.
In every room, couches pull out so family members can stay near their loved ones receiving care.
Four new imaging machines have been added, including a CT scanner, which now has a space inside the building rather than a modified truck trailer outside.
Continuing the fun spirit of the day, the X-ray machine was helpfully demonstrated by a plastic skeleton waiting for a scan by his technician, an oversized teddy bear. About seven huge bears demonstrated features around the building, likely to be auctioned off by the hospital foundation, Jensen said.
A skilled nursing multipurpose room provides an activity space for patients receiving extended care, featuring a Nintendo Wii donated by a board member.
A physical therapy gym and rehabilitation services are important new features from the old space.
One thing is absent: Break areas for individual departments. In a hospital, it’s easy for staff to get into their own “silos,” Jensen said. Instead, Summit Pacific features a spacious “Staff Support Room,” with a stove, oven, big-screen TV and garden exit for all employees to use.
“This space was designed to get them out of their silos,” Jensen said.
Staff will also have a full locker room with two showers — a big improvement over one shower shared with patients.
Cafe Salute, the Italian word for “health,” features a small buffet and eating space. At Friday’s event, the cafe had a hot food table full of meatballs and quesadillas, rounded out by options like bruschetta, cookies and, of course, the perennial hospital staple: Jell-O.
Tarina Erickson is a medical receptionist at Elma Family Medicine, another clinic in the district across the street from the hospital. She was one of the many people enjoying the hospital food Friday.
“It’s very good. The meatballs are very good,” she said. “I’ll be running across the street.”
Martha Craighead, an Elma resident for more than 60 years, enjoyed the cafe with her sister and mother.
“When you have someone staying in the hospital it’s nice to know you won’t have to go out to eat,” she said.
Overall, “We’re impressed. It’s a really nice facility and they’ve added a lot of things.”
Her mother, Mary Alice LeVering, was the sole office worker when Mark Reed opened. She turns 99 next month.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said of Summit Pacific.
McCleary resident Linda Scerbo said she wasn’t at all disappointed the hospital moved to Elma. She particularly liked the new facility’s lighting and easy-to-understand layout
“It’s located very central. It’s great for the hospital district,” she said. “I think it’s great. It’s much bigger. I’m very impressed.”
The upgrades won the approval of Grays Harbor Fire District 5 Chief Dan Prater, who said the larger ambulance area would be much easier to work in.
“For the most part, we’re extremely happy with it,” he said. “This place is beautiful.”
For Jensen, the most precious moment of the unveiling process came earlier this week when some staffers were in the building for training. She overheard one remark, ” ‘Can you believe we get to work here?’ That was amazing.”
Being weeks away from opening after years of work is “kind of surreal,” she said, but exciting for the contribution the hospital will make to the rural quality of life in the area.
“This is for the community,” Jensen said. “Just because you live rural doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to have the best.”