Community Health Care breaks ground for Hilltop health center

Tacoma News Tribune - John Gillie

An array of dignitaries from Sen. Maria Cantwell to Hilltop Business District President Eric Crittendon, gathered under a rain-battered tent Wednesday to break ground for the first major commercial structure built in the business district in more than a decade.

They and dozens of health care workers, patients, politicians and civic leaders wielded shovels to mark the symbolic beginning of construction of the $26-million Hilltop Regional Health Center.

The three-story, 54,000-square-foot center will be part of Community Health Care’s network of clinics serving low-income and uninsured persons in Pierce County with health and dental care.

Cantwell called the new center “a great expansion of the access to healthcare for the Hilltop community.” 

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks said he was “very, very proud of the many people who worked so hard to make this possible.”

While the 200 or so attendees at the ceremony turned the earth at the construction site Wedensday morning, actual construction won’t being until June, said David Flentge, Community Health Care president.

The health care provider is still opening construction bids for the building.

The building’s groundbreaking was originally scheduled for last summer, but a two-day strike by members of the health care concern’s staff forced cancellation of those ceremonies.

Community Health Care reached a contract agreement with those workers, member of the Service Employees International Union, in early December last year.

Hilltop Business District President Crittendon said the new building will not only bring more workers to the business area along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way — an estimated 130 will work at the building — but it will attract an estimated 200 to 300 patients a day to the area. The structure, he said, could set a theme for new development in the business district.

Tacoma Mayor Strickland said the health care structure could attract other health care-related business to what she dubbed the “Medical Mile” on Martin Luther King Way between the city’s two largest medical centers, MultiCare Tacoma General at the north end of the street and St. Joseph at the south end.

Community Health Care President David Flentge said financing for the building will come $12-million federal Health Resources and Services Administration grant, a $1.5 million state grant and money from the sale of tax credits and personal donations.

The new building will house a first-in-the-nation interdisciplinary family practice residency program for physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists, physicians assistants and pharmacists.

An urgent care clinic on the building’s first floor will help relieve the burden on the two nearby hospitals’ emergency departments by treating less serious illnesses now being handled in those expensive facilities.  A 75-person-capacity community room will be available to neighborhood groups for meetings.

The building’s site at 1202 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way is now a vacant lot.  It originally was the site of a building that decades ago housed a grocery store and then became the site of the Tacoma campus of The Evergreen State College.

The new building is expected to open next spring. Once it opens, Community Health will close its Tacoma downtown clinic.