We will be the first to agree that the $400 million St. Luke’s Master Plan expansion seeking approval of the Boise City Council — and, pending that, a green light from the Ada County Highway District to vacate Jefferson Street — is a traffic and access issue.
Just as a previous St. Luke's expansion resulted in the closing of a section of Bannock Street, this 30-year plan would eventually result in the closing of a 300-foot section of Jefferson that would make way for, among other things, expanded emergency room services and critical care suites that would dramatically diminish the time and structural obstacles to treat stroke and other seriously ill patients.
It is this patient traffic, and the potential of integrated care when seconds count, that concerns us more than any vehicular traffic. That’s why we support the hospital plan and urge the city of Boise and ACHD to do the same. We trust that the hospital, if granted permission, will continue to work with planners, the city and ACHD to come up with solutions for pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic in what will be a challenging scenario.
Even with approval, the hospital must go the extra mile and extra expense to mitigate the impact upon the surrounding community. The expansion plan has been in the works and in the minds of the hospital strategists for years. Up until recent months the hospital has been clumsy about sharing the details and responding to criticism and feedback from stakeholders.
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St. Luke’s had a wake-up call in February when the Boise Planing and Zoning and Commission did not approve of its plan — especially the part about closing a portion of Jefferson. We believe St. Luke’s has responded since then with innovative measures to accommodate all modes of traffic even if that block of Jefferson is closed.
We conclude there is a larger priority here. The clinical needs of a hospital system that has served the Treasure Valley for decades should not take a back seat to the able-bodied folks who might experience a new, less convenient route across town. Nor should such an initiative be chased from Boise, where it belongs, to another Treasure Valley community to the west.
That said, we’re all for St. Luke’s bending over backward to mitigate delays and coming up with solutions to expedite pedestrian, bicycle and motor vehicle traffic. We recognize the hospital expansion will impact the East End and other neighborhoods. Let us not forget that it will also serve them in their medical crises.
We have attended both workshops the city of Boise hosted and listened in on the plans and questions. We have had discussions with organized groups and individuals opposed to the St. Luke’s expansion. Though the opponents’ concerns are real and legitimate, they do not, in our judgment, trump a hospital’s desire to shave seconds off emergency room response times — seconds that can destroy brain cells in a stroke victim, or result in death for a heart patient. Proximity is everything when lives are on the line.
After examining alternative expansion plans that, essentially, went in different directions from the existing hospital campus footprint, we agree with the hospital’s preferred northward expansion. It expands the emergency room’s options where it already exists. It is more cost-effective and less disruptive during the transition.
We don’t buy criticism we have heard about new parking ramps and the increase in medical offices that are included in the plan. Those components are necessary to the integrated care and will serve those who are ill along with their families. Doctors in these offices will routinely send patients for tests in the hospital. Patients will be able to cross corridors instead of parts of town to get a diagnosis.
Though the positive economic impact of the expansion — which would be one of the largest construction projects in the state — is a consideration, we keep coming back to the clinical advantages that proximity of care will create. Speeding up access for patients to enhanced medical services is the key reason the city and ACHD should be partners with St. Luke’s in a project that will serve us all.
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email email@example.com. Disclosure: Publisher Michael Jung is a member of the St. Luke's Strategic Initiatives Committee.