You never want to need Harborview Medical Center. But if you ever suffer serious traumatic injuries or suffer burns in a fire, the only Level 1 trauma center for Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska is the right place for care. It is the front line of defense for our broader community in times of acute crisis, whether a pandemic, multi-injury accidents, natural disaster or chronic crisis, such as the health effects of homelessness.
Now Harborview needs you. King County voters should approve Proposition 1 for Harborview Medical Center Health and Safety Improvement Bonds, on the Nov. 3 ballot. Its hefty ask of $1.74 billion over 20 years comes at an inconvenient time. But consider it a necessary investment in the health and vitality of all in our region. The new property tax would cost the owner of a $600,000 home about $75 a year, depending on interest rates.
The King County Council voted unanimously to put the bond measure on the ballot for capital improvements; the hospital’s operations are financially self-supporting with no subsidies.
Walking through the halls of Harborview Medical Center recently, visitors needed to stay on their toes. Pausing to listen to CEO Paul Hayes explain plans for earthquake-proofing the Center Tower, built in 1930, a cart forces the group to one side. Imagine, if there was an earthquake and how devastation to Harborview’s physical plant would interfere with attending the wounded.
In the emergency department, flimsy curtains separate beds where sexual-assault victims sometimes must recount the details of their assaults to police, no matter who is nearby. Sometimes, during peak periods, patients have to be on gurneys in the hallway. Grim news and private reactions are suddenly public in the most trying of circumstances.
The bond measure would stabilize older buildings, expand and modernize the emergency department, increase surge capacity, and meet modern infection and privacy standards.
Walking through the floor that treats COVID-19 patients, you step gingerly not only around the extra PPE-stocked carts and hampers with discarded gear but around temporary work stations so doctors, nurses and others can maintain social distancing. Look out the window down to the street, and one of Harborview’s two mobile vans is set up for free COVID-19 testing.
Harborview itself is usually the go-to facility for treatment of people in crisis, including mental illness or drug addiction, whether inpatient, emergency and at its behavioral health outpatient clinics, which have run out of room.
The bond measure would consolidate its existing behavior health services into a new, expanded facility that will allow providers to help patients stave off crisis before it happens. Additionally, up to 150 additional respite beds will be added to the renovated Harborview Hall. Especially vulnerable patients ready to be discharged but without a stable, safe environment to go to can continue their recovery while social workers help determine their next steps.
Harborview takes care of our community when we need it most now and in the future. Voters should approve King County Proposition 1 so it can keep doing that job well.
The Seattle Times editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Brier Dudley, Jennifer Hemmingsen, Mark Higgins, Derrick Nunnally and William K. Blethen (emeritus).