Demand for health care driving hospital expansion

Posted: Sunday, May 05, 2002

A clear indication of the growing demand for health care services in Alaska can be seen in the expansion plans of major medical facilities, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workplace Development.

The May issue of Alaska Economic Trends, published by the labor department, says that three Anchorage hospitals are planning capital improvements. The Alaska Psychiatric Institute plans to open a replacement hospital by 2004, Providence Hospital will spend up to $80 million by 2007 on construction and renovation, and Alaska Regional Hospital is spending $30 million on expansion and renovation.

Meanwhile, other medical facility expansions are going on or are planned elsewhere in the state, including here on the Kenai Peninsula. Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna hopes to double its space, said Jay Seigfreid, chief executive officer of the hospital. He paraphrased a popular line from the movie "Field of Dreams" in outlining why his facility must expand.

"It's not a case of 'build it and they will come.' We know we have to build it because 'they' are already here," he said.

The Central Peninsula Hospital Service Area currently serves roughly 35,000, Seigfreid said, a figure that includes slightly more than those who live within the legal boundaries of the service area itself. That population is growing, and, more important, aging, too, he said.

In the past 10 years, the percentage of the general population that is 65 and older jumped from 4.2 to about 7.2 percent, he said. If that trend continues, the peninsula could soon see an aged population rivaling that of the Lower 48 in terms of demographic distribution.

Currently, an estimated 12.4 percent of Americans are 65 or older, according to the 2000 Census data. Technology has gotten better and faster in that time, Seigfreid said, which has helped the hospital to serve its population well.

But size has become an issue, and space is at a premium in radiology, emergency, labs, patients' rooms, everywhere, he said.

"There is not quite the space to take care of the volume of business we are seeing," he said. "We need more space across the board."

Determining how the general service area population views that need, finding ways to fund the project -- such as by taxes, or bonds or with hospital revenues -- and how fast to proceed are among the questions the board and the administration are wrestling with now, he said.

"The real problem is that the population grew, but the facility didn't," he said. "However, I think the residents have gotten more than their money's worth out of this facility."

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