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$300,000 Expansion

Skyline starts construction of new physical therapy facility

"Physical therapy and sports medicine is one shining bright light in a sea of despair in health care." That statement, from Skyline Hospital Administrator Mike Madden, shows how important the physical therapy department has been to the hospital in recent months.

The problem is, the department has outgrown its small facilities in one corner of Skyline.

"They're getting frustrated with the lack of space," Madden explained. "They may take the business private. The hospital operates on a razor-thin margin, and losing physical therapy would make it more shaky."

However, Madden said the physical therapy department is finally in line to be expanded: After several years of making do in a small corner of Skyline, a new facility is being built directly east of the hospital.

The concrete footings for the new building were poured on Dec. 2.

"We're moving along," Madden said. "The project is going to happen as we have money available. We have a start date, we just don't have a finish date yet."

The new facility will offer 2,400 square feet. The current quarters, in use since 1997, offers a total 934 square feet.

"It's a postage stamp," Madden joked.

Staff members in the department were enthusiastic about the upcoming move.

"This is going to be so welcome. We'll move in as soon as they tell me it's ready," said Tom Moline, manager of the physical therapy department. "That more than doubles our space. We're more constrained by space than personnel."

The department employs 11, including five physical therapists, five therapy assistants, and an office manager.

Madden said the department does a vital job very well, and needs enhanced facilities.

"Our physical therapy department is the premier program in the Gorge and almost in the entire Northwest," Madden said. "It has a nationwide reputation because of the staff we have. We've had to turn some business away because there is not room to handle it. We don't like to turn people away, because no matter how good the program is, they won't keep looking for you if they keep getting turned down."

Madden praised the department as one having "programs designed for almost every element of society," including the handicapped, seniors, and athletes of all ages -- high school students in particular.

"The therapists are extremely in demand," Madden explained. "Athletics are about 55 per cent of the work, but there is extremely wide community usage of the services and facilities we provide at Skyline."

The department also provides a solid fountain of revenue for Skyline.

"It's a very good source of revenue," Madden explained. "The department generates $100,000 a month for the hospital. Two years ago, it was $20,000 a month."

Madden said the increase does not necessarily mean there is now more demand for physical therapy in the community.

"It's not that there is more demand; there has always been big demand," Madden said. "It's just that the reputation for the therapy program has gotten so good, a lot of business that had been going other places is now coming here."

In fact, therapists seeking certification from the American Physical Therapy Association also now come to Skyline for a one-year residency with the physical therapy department. That's the final step they take in order to become a certified sports medicine specialist.

"They come here for a year of training after seven years of practice," Madden explained.

Moline said the expansion will allow his staff to take care of one nagging problem.

"The only complaint we've had, and one problem we can't correct, is that there is not enough privacy for our patients in the current space," Moline said. "That issue will not be an issue once we have a new building. This will make a good service even better."

However, because the Washington Department of Health is requiring that the physical therapy building be built to general hospital standards, that has added additional building requirements, and more costs.

"We thought it would be about $150,000, but now it'll be $300,000. That makes it a little more difficult for us," Madden said. "We have a little bit of money set aside, and plan to do a lot of work with own staff."

To help cover the unanticipated additional building costs, the city of White Salmon recently agreed to waive the city's building permit fees. That is expected to save Skyline approximately $1,760.

"It's just a little bit of a help for our cash-flow situation," Madden explained. "Every little bit helps."

The White Salmon City Council agreed to the waiver partly based on Skyline's huge economic benefits to the community.

"We put $6 million back into the community every year in payroll," Madden told the council members. "Studies show that payroll dollars turn over four and a half times -- so that's about a $30 million benefit to the community."

"The hospital provides services to our citizens, so it's in the public interest [to help by waiving the fee]," explained White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen.

Madden said the entire staff in the PT department is looking forward to having more room in which to work.

"I hope we can get the construction done in about six or seven months," he said. "Physical therapy hopes we get it done yesterday."

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