Swedish Medical Center is losing money at its Ballard campus, and changes are on the way: For the last few months, that's all Ballard residents have known, and among the village elders, panic began to spread.
One of the misperceptions going around is that we’re closing—and that’s not the case,” says Rayburn Lewis, MD, vice president of medical affairs. On the other hand, the “redevelopment plan,” which will go before the hospital’s board of trustees on the evening of June 27 (after The Stranger goes to press), is phasing out services precious to the neighborhood’s oldest residents.
The proposal calls for the hospital to drop its intensive-care unit and reduce the number of patients it accepts for extended care. Some programs will be expanded, such as obstetrics.
"The older crowd, 65 and up, they're terrified at this prospect," says one long-time Ballard resident, who asked not to be named. The elderly, he adds, are leery of driving outside Ballard. "This is where their doctors are. They stand to lose that." That feeling of abandonment is especially hard to accept for those who lived in the neighborhood during the 1950s, when donations from residents built the Ballard Community Hospital, as it was known then.
"A lot of people in the community have really given time and energy to the hospital and they do feel a sense of ownership," says Beth Williamson Miller, executive director of the Ballard Chamber of Commerce. "They take [the hospital] more seriously than maybe someone who has just recently moved here." According to the most recent census figures, twenty- and thirtysomethings make up 50 percent of Ballard, while those over 50 make up just 27 percent.
Whatever its symbolic importance, Lewis says the hospital was working on an outdated business model. (The Stranger learned that the hospital has been losing $4 million to $5 million annually since 2002.) There wasn't enough work in Ballard for specialists, who were leaving for jobs downtown.