Willapa Harbor Hospital to build replacement facility on new ground

Hospital purchased 20 acres of land near Raymond last month

Willapa Harbor Hospital plans to build an upgraded hospital on 20 acres of recently-purchased land near Raymond, which will expand services and meet code requirements lacking in the hospital’s current facility.

The Willapa Harbor Hospital Board of Commissioners announced in a news release last month that the land is just east of Highway 101, south of Pedigree Catamarans boat builders in between Raymond and South Bend.

Willapa Harbor Hospital CEO Matt Kempton said early estimates peg costs for the new facility at about $65 million in total, including purchase of the land and site development , although costs — and other projections for the facility including design and new services — are still uncertain with the project in its infancy.

Construction could start by 2025 “if the stars align,” Kempton said in an interview.

The public will have a chance to chime in on concepts for the new facility over the course of the next year, according to the news release, although the schedule for community input hasn’t yet been finalized.

“It’s a big project, it’s going to take everybody’s participation,” Kempton said.

According to the Pacific County Assessor’s Office, the hospital bought the new land, which consists of three parcels east of Shahour Road, for $850,000 on Jan. 20. Kempton said it took over a year to find suitable ground for a new hospital.

“It was difficult finding a piece of property that met the requirements of access, water, tsunami safety, topographical suitability and centrality of location, but the Hospital Commission is quite pleased with the final result,” the news release states. “This location will give the site direct access to Highway 101.”

In 2021 the hospital board drafted a facility master plan that included options for replacing or remodeling the hospital’s current campus in South Bend. Kempton said the board considered remodeling or expanding on the current facility, which was built in 1954, but found it didn’t meet modern seismic standards and wasn’t up to code.

Kempton said ailments of the current building include aging HVAC units and a lack of hot water in some parts of the building, among other problems.

Remodeling the building to meet codes would’ve cost the hospital $20 million to $30 million, Kempton said. In addition, the current site didn’t have adequate room for expansion.

Building a new facility will allow the current hospital to remain open during construction, as well as save money, according to the news release.

“We thought that if we’re going to be investing that much money it would be better to replace the facility, built up to today’s current standards,” Kempton said. “Healthcare has changed a lot in 70 years.”

Kempton said demand for emergency room beds has grown — the number of daily emergency room patients at Willapa Harbor jumped by 70% in 2022. Because emergency patients usually require further care, the ER boom rippled through other service lines, pressing the hospital’s capacity, Kempton said.

The current facility is built with a higher number of inpatient beds and fewer emergency room beds, a ratio which will likely be altered at the new facility.

Early plans for the replacement hospital put the building at 56,000 square feet, while the current facility is 43,500 square feet, according to Kempton. Both of those figures include the hospital’s Rural Health Clinic.

Along with the larger space, the new hospital could facilitate services that patients are currently forced to seek in Olympia. Kempton said community needs assessments have identified physical therapy, cardiology and chemotherapy as prominent gaps in service.

The larger space could allow the hospital to add an operating room as well as an orthopedic surgeon. New staff would have to be hired based on which services are added, Kempton said, or services could be provided by visiting specialists. Other possible additions include an in-house MRI machine and IV infusions.

About $45 million of the roughly $65 million cost of the new facility will come from USDA loan financing, according to Kempton. The hospital will contribute some of its own money and apply for grants, and might have to propose a ballot initiative to ask for taxpayer funding, but the hospital still has to conduct a financial feasibility study and consult with an architect.

Kempton said the future of the current hospital building is uncertain, but it could go up for sale once the new hospital opens.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.