Though King County Elections anticipates turnout as high as 90% this November, King County Executive Dow Constantine is worried about ballot fatigue. He’s worried too many voters will open their ballot, excitedly fill in that Biden bubble, and then ship it off without considering the 34 other boxes on that crowded document.
This concern applies to all down-ballot races, but he’s especially worried about King County Proposition 1, which would allow the county to issue a new $1.74 billion bond to update and expand Harborview Medical Center. Unlike the other races, if 60% of voters don’t approve the proposition, then it’ll sink.
That would be a real shame, King County. The bond measure tackles a convergence of crises facing the region, from COVID-19 to the housing and homelessness epidemic.
The 20-year bond measure replaces the last bond measure, which passed all the way back before 9/11 (in 2000). Through a small property tax increase, the measure pays for Harborview to build a new tower, a new behavioral health building, and to make seismic upgrades and other renovations.
Even before Harborview became the center of the U.S.’s COVID-19 response back in March, the hospital struggled to handle problems associated with the pace of King County’s population growth. Then the pandemic hit and amplified those problems.
Neeru Kaur, a respiratory therapist who works at Harborview, described the “acute challenges” COVID-19 brought. Bed capacity has always been an issue, but it was exacerbated by the need to keep patients separate. Harborview has 413 beds, but only 40 are in single rooms, and 20 are reserved for psychiatric patients, according to Capitol Hill Seattle Blog. According to Kaur, over 50 beds remain empty at Harborview to avoid cross contamination.
Staff only separates patients in the same room with curtains. Many stay in beds in the hallway. Registered dietitian nutritionist Annika Garman, who works with patients as they get out of the hospital, said she recently treated a patient stuck in a hallway for seven days.
Kaur says that’s not the kind of arrangement you want to see at the only Level 1 trauma center in the region, which serves Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho.
“We get traumas, pediatrics, burns,” Kaur said, “We have really sick medical patients all the time. It’s very important that not only our patients are at low risk of contracting infections but we take care of them with privacy dignity and respect.”
The bond measure would fund a $952 million, 10-story tower to the hospital, which would provide space for 360 single-occupant rooms. Additionally, it would create a specific behavioral health center meant to address both mental health and substance use disorders.
“We’re way over capacity in the upsurge of behavioral health challenges,” Constantine said. “There’s not really a dedicated center.”
The behavioral health center adds 150 respite beds. These beds would give people experiencing homelessness a place to chill for a second to get their needs met, rather than simply being discharged back to the streets, Kaur said. Constantine called this “non-stigmatizing healthcare.”
That center, respite beds and all, costs around $79 million.
For the median homeowner, paying for the bond measure will cost around $75 a year on average, according to the Seattle Times. The median home value is fucking batshit in Seattle, though ($780,000 according to Zillow!!!!). Constantine estimates it will cost around $72 a year.
Constantine calls funding the hospital upgrade a “generational responsibility to do this lifting and get this place up to snuff.”
Aside from the median homeowner paying $75 per year for a state-of-the-art hospital that helps tackle two of our state’s major crises, the only lifting many will have to do involves simply filling out their whole ballot. Let’s hope everyone remembers that their vote counts in every race, not just the presidential one!!!