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Swedish challenges hospital retail stigma at new Highlands campus
Artistic rendering of Issaquah's future Swedish Medical Center.
A construction crane the color of a school bus looms above drivers as they exit Interstate 90 and head up the hill on Highlands Drive, en route to the Issaquah Highlands, Klahanie or Sammamish. The yellow monolith heralds the ongoing development of the new Swedish Medical Center, which last week took another important step toward completion. On Wednesday, July 28, Swedish representatives held a community meeting at Tibbetts Creek Manor to present a construction update, propose ideas for retail facilities in the center, and to receive feedback from residents and business leaders about what they would like to see at the new campus. Initially, attendance at the meeting was sparse - one reporter and State Representative Marcie Maxwell. But as independent real estate consultant Yves Mizrahi, and Swedish Representative Irene Zook presented the future of retail at Swedish, about a dozen people trickled in. Currently, Issaquah has two Swedish facilities – Emergency Room Services on NW Sammamish Road and the new Lakeside Specialty Care Services on 226th Place SE. The third, and perhaps most publicized, Issaquah facility is the new Swedish Medical Center campus on NE Blakely Drive in the Highlands, which is slated to open in two stages beginning next summer. Stage one – July 2011 During the project's first stage, Swedish will open a lab, pharmacy and kitchen on the ground level, and emergency, imaging and outpatient services on the first floor of the hospital building. The attached medical office building will launch all its services during this first stage, including obstetrics, gynecology, outpatient rehabilitation, primary care and pediatric specialties. Stage one will also include the opening of retail and conference center services on the first and second floors of the medical building. The retail shops will weave around a T-shaped 12,000-square-foot area called The Commons and will offer patients, employees and visitors a place to sit, congregate, and even meditate. “We are trying to break the stigma that hospitals have,” said Swedish Senior Vice President Kevin Brown. This retail strategy is a new thing for Swedish. While most hospitals have a gift shop that sells cards, flowers and balloons, according to Mizrahi the shopping area of the Issaquah campus should look more like “a medical retail mall.” “We're working to create a unique environment, by taking hospital retail to the next level and providing “exemplary services," Mizrahi said. Some of the ideas floating around include a mini-spa near the dermatology area, a wellness shop that sells naturopathic and weight loss products, a maternity and children's store, and a flexible space that could be used for yoga classes or educational seminars. Of course, there will also be food – an upgraded cafeteria, coffee shop or kiosk, and maybe a 'grab-n-go' deli. The goal of creating this kind of a shopping venue is to provide offerings for patients and employees, but also for the community as a whole. “If we do it right, the hope is to bring the community in,” Mizrahi said. Another way Swedish hopes to welcome the public is by providing meeting spaces at the second floor conference center. They will offer a variety of rooms for booking, the largest accommodating up to 150 attendees. Each room will be wired with the latest technology. Since this retail and conference center concept is unique among medical centers, many aspects are still being negotiated. Brown said there were no firm contracts in place, and who would run the shops was not yet set in stone. "We're trying to figure out the uses first, then we'll work on the financials," he said. Some store spaces would likely be leased to third parties, while others would be run by Swedish. Stage two – February 2012 After the initial phase of construction is complete, development will continue on the remaining hospital services, including inpatient surgery, labor and delivery, pediatric inpatient, and intensive care, set to open in February 2012. At that point, the campus will be fully operational and will provide 175 inpatient beds, outpatient and ambulatory care, as well as jobs for up to 1,200 people. Swedish hopes their shops will support current Issaquah retailers and manufacturers by providing another way to get their products in the hands of consumers. "For every dollar the hospital generates, it generates $2 for other businesses in the area,” Brown said. In light of the delayed retail expansion along Highlands Drive, the Swedish shops will be a welcome addition for residents, and will likely spur further development. The only question raised by one of the meeting attendees was whether or not daycare was going to be provided for either employees or the public. While no firm decision has been made, Swedish representatives said they were aware of childcare concerns and were looking at options. Construction of the medical center will reach a milestone with a topping out ceremony on Friday, Aug. 6, when the final steel beam will be placed into the building structure. With many of the details for the new retail space and conference center still being worked out, the public is encouraged to submit their ideas and express any concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.