Klickitat Valley Health apparently will not take “no” for an answer. For the fourth time in four years, KVH is asking property owners to pay for a hospital expansion that many voters keep saying they do not want. The only difference that we can see between this time and last is that the asking price has gone back up to the original $19.3 million, no doubt due to inflation.
Speaking of inflation, is this not the absolute worst time to be asking us for money? Not many Klickitat County property owners are wealthy. Only property owners will be paying the 19.3 million over the next 25 years.
Proponents of the expansion have downplayed the significance of the tax increase, saying that it’s only a few dollars a month and not as much as past bonds. But as every property owner in this county knows, values were reassessed last year and we were all hit with whopping tax bills. We have a small property with an average house and our property tax increased by $400. The hospital bond would add $120 on top of that for us. Many folks would pay much more.
In a letter to The Sentinel in July 2019, we said that KVH facilities have been well cared for over the years but could use some upgrades. We did not vote for the bond because the plan was grandiose. KVH did scale back after defeat. We remain in favor of repurposing and remodeling existing spaces, and equipment upgrades, but we are not convinced that the hospital expansion is essential. It appears the plan remains the same as last vote for a new, two-story, 24,000 sq. ft. addition that would eliminate 12,000 sq. ft. of parking space. The top floor would house new surgery units and 10 inpatient hospital rooms. The bottom floor would be empty, reserved for future use. This is an expensive project for our community. Taxpayers need to be confident that it is truly needed.
Some questions that remain: On a typical day, how many of the existing hospital beds have patients in them? We have heard that most beds are usually empty; is this true? We have not been able to find figures on the KVH website. Last week’s article in The Sentinel gave 2022 figures for ER and clinic visits, but not for hospital in-patients. If KVH does not need all the patient rooms they have now, why not remodel the number of rooms that are actually needed and use the rest to create a new surgery unit? Is an additional surgery unit actually needed? Can the existing surgery rooms be remodeled and outfitted with new equipment? How many surgeries are performed each week now? How many surgeons can KVH afford to employ? And what about the parking area that would be lost? It would be helpful to voters if detailed answers to these and other vital questions could easily be found on the KVH website, as well as in an upcoming edition of The Sentinel. We need more than a promotional brochure.
We believe that many who voted “yes” for the bond in previous years did so because they misunderstood the idea of adding 15 long-term-care beds. Most of the people we talked with believed that Goldendale would be getting a nursing home, retirement home, or assisted living home, (emphasis on “home”). Specific details were not given in KVH literature and the folks we talked with did not think it through. KVH does not have the space to create a “care home”. It is reasonable to expect that the 15 long-term-care beds would be patient rooms within the existing hospital building, (as stated), where patients would most likely spend their final weeks or months. They might be very nice rooms, but they would still be hospital rooms in a hospital setting. If we are incorrect, it is because KVH has not been clear. Voters need to understand exactly what they would, (and would not be), getting. Klickitat County needs several long-term care homes of all types and levels of care—it is a great need—but 15 hospital beds is a mere drop in the bucket of need. And a hospital is the most expensive setting in which to receive long-term care.
We ask that KVH leadership consider again the true needs of the community, realistically and conservatively. In these very difficult times, KVH may have to make do with what they have, as we all must.