The following guest opinion is written by a group calling itself “KEEP BOISE CONNECTED.” A spokesman for KBC asked to remain anonymous for fear of political retaliation. The opinions expressed are those of the group, many of whom are bicycle advocates.
The enormous planned expansion of St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in downtown Boise is nearing the end of its approval process with the most crucial decision still on the table: the Ada County Highway District (ACHD) ruling, slated for June 22, on the permanent closure of Jefferson Street.
Acquiring a portion of Jefferson is the linchpin to St. Luke’s planned expansion.
St. Luke’s would have us believe that the expansion is a “health care decision” and that because they save lives, they should be given carte blanche to expand in any way they wish. However, this is not a health care decision:
–It is a land-use determination that sets precedent for how and why public resources are allocated and relinquished to private hands in our county.
–It is a public decision that highlights how local government addresses a massive project promoted by a powerful and extremely aggressive private, tax-exempt institution.
Downtown residents are understandably very concerned about increased traffic and “blockade” between east and west downtown that the massively expanded St. Luke’s campus would create with the closure of Jefferson Street. However, there is ample cause for all other Ada County residents to be concerned, whether as taxpayers, patients or employees of St. Luke’s. We believe it’s important to look at this decision in terms of who wins, who loses and who pays:
Highly-compensated St. Luke’s executives living in the adjacent Boise Foothills would win, commuting to a consolidated medical campus in a matter of minutes.
Most St. Luke’s patients – those who drive from areas other than Boise’s north and east end – would lose. To call the planned changes at St. Luke’s a “hospital expansion” is misleading. Fully 44 percent of the new square footage in St. Luke’s submitted plans is set aside for “medical office buildings.” Outpatient services provided in these medical office buildings would account for roughly 64 percent of the increased traffic volume; St. Luke’s proposal requires them to provide over 1,800 parking spaces of which over 1,100 would be specifically for outpatient services. For routine, non-emergency office visits, Ada County citizens would be forced to trek across the valley to an already crowded location, navigating a complex medical campus with multistory parking structures.
For emergency care, when seconds count, critically ill patients would race across the city, exit the highway, and then navigate congested urban streets to access the hospital. There’s a reason our other hospitals with emergency services like Saint Alphonsus or St. Luke’s Meridian locate themselves adjacent to highway exits.
Citizens who have relied on elected officials to exercise due diligence and ask tough questions when considering a public taking also look to be on the losing end. Despite repeated inquires as to “why” the entire expansion had to happen at a location where a public street has to be vacated and the associated costs to the taxpayer look to be significantly higher, St. Luke’s has yet to be compelled to place before the public any robust analysis of other obvious, possible options. When a national expert on urban health care design weighed in and said he believed better options for the community could be found, citizens were told his input came “too late in the game.” Officials dismissed the concerns of certified bicycle safety instructors, who questioned the safety of the much-touted “cycle track.”
To those who have dared to question the expansion proposal, including other medical providers and some St. Luke’s employees, the message to this point of the process has been clear: insider politics and “done deal decision-making” look to be alive and well, particularly when faced with the substantial political wherewithal of Idaho’s largest “non-profit” organization.
In a nutshell, the St. Luke’s expansion would increase the burden on Ada County taxpayers, including the cost of increased traffic. Estimates have the hard-pressed Warm Springs/Broadway intersection even busier than the current 27-lane Franklin/Milwaukee intersection near the mall (by 10,000 daily trips), when the expansion is complete in 20 years.
More traffic and more congestion would require substantial new traffic infrastructure, including proposed additional pedestrian and cycling facilities to be owned and maintained by the taxpayers. These efforts would increase ACHD’s work load due to added construction, maintenance and administration. As proposed, this project is a significant long-term responsibility and liability for the taxpayers with no additional revenue attached. Many more of ACHD’s resources would need to be focused on downtown Boise, making it more difficult for ACHD to address needs elsewhere in the County.
It seems obvious, but ACHD’s and taxpayer’s burden likely would be greatly reduced if parts of the expansion were located closer to major thoroughfares that can already accommodate increased traffic, or where responsibility is shared with the State of Idaho (state highways and interstates).
A better plan would be to locate some of the proposed facilities at the multiple and various properties that St. Luke’s has collected over the years on the west side of downtown near Americana Boulevard and 27th and Fairview, near the connector. These locations would be more convenient for the vast majority of patients and employees in Ada County, given the county’s population growth west of downtown. This arrangement would also reduce the new traffic construction needed with the downtown campus, as well as the tax burden associated with the long-term maintenance.
Quite frankly, we’re baffled. We can’t understand why St. Luke’s and the City of Boise are okay with squeezing so much new non-emergency office space and its associated traffic in a constricted campus with local streets when “community owned” St. Luke’s owns extensive, more centrally-located property closer to existing, high-volume transportation infrastructure. As St. Luke’s continues to insist that there is one, and only one, way for them to accomplish their expansion, it’s time to ask more questions, not fewer of them. As with St. Luke’s ill-conceived acquisition of Saltzer Medical Group, or its systemic violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, citizens and officials need to question St. Luke’s practices and intentions to assure equitable and excellent results for our community.
Please let your voice be heard! Please tell your ACHD commissioner that you want to know why St Luke’s can’t put these non-emergency office buildings on more centrally located property that it already owns, thereby improving access for many patients and employees, and reducing the need for extensive new traffic construction needed with the downtown campus, and the tax burden associated with the long-term maintenance.
The meeting to consider the permanent closure of Jefferson Street is scheduled for June 22, 2016 starting at 6:00 at the ACHD auditorium located at 3775 Adams Street in Boise.
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