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Originally published June 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 25, 2008 at 5:46 PM

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Group Health to open state-of-the-art facility in Bellevue

Some buildings in Bellevue are taller than the new Group Health's Bellevue Medical Center opening July 1, but few are more prominent.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Some buildings in Bellevue are taller than the new Group Health's Bellevue Medical Center opening July 1, but few are more prominent.

Standing at the northeast corner of Interstate 405 and the city's major east-west roadway, Northeast Eighth Street, the four-floor, 190,000-square-foot building will be seen by hundreds of thousands of people daily passing on the freeway.

What they won't see from the outside is how the structure functions inside.

"It's like a symphony, where the doctors are, where the patients are," said Dr. Robert Sandblom, the new center's medical director.

Sandblom and other Group Health staff members are careful not to call the building a hospital, since that's not its purpose. Group Health's Bellevue Medical Center is intended to provide care for more than 1,000 people a day who will come for outpatient treatment. Some will have surgery there.

If Group Health patients need to spend the night, they'll do so at Overlake Hospital Medical Center, connected to the new structure by a tunnel under the still-to-be-completed Northeast 10th Street extension crossing I-405. Group Health estimates that on any given day, 35 to 50 Group Health patients will be at Overlake Hospital Medical Center.

The partnership with Overlake dates back to the late 1990s when Group Health grappled with the economics of keeping its Redmond facility open. Group Health and Overlake arranged an alliance in 2003, which led to the construction of the new medical center.

Welcoming entrance

Designers of the new building focused heavily on giving patients a positive experience.

The first space patients will encounter, a vast multistory lobby, has both a fireplace and floor-to-ceiling south-facing windows. That orientation is intentional, said David Derr, principal in Ellerbe Becket, a health-care architectural firm founded in Minneapolis in 1909. Ellerbe Becket also designed the well-known Mayo Clinic.

"Natural light is a very key aspect of health care," said Derr, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. The light from the big windows and the welcoming ambience of the hearth are intended to soothe.

"We try to make the building as simple as possible in terms of reducing stress," said Derr.

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That means, for example, no arrows on the floors to try to help with navigation, no color-coded pathways, no bewildering floor plans.

Surfaces in the building are based on natural Northwest materials; destinations are planned to be instinctively accessible. Waiting areas are intentionally small, with the idea that there won't be much waiting.

That dedication to patients shows up in such places as a third-floor south-facing physical-therapy room which has the best views of Mount Rainier — for patients, not for staff members.

When visitors enter patient rooms — they're not called examination rooms — they'll find curtained areas for changing, an effort to help patients maintain as much dignity as possible.

There's a precisely oriented computer workstation in each of the 136 patient-care rooms, fitted so the screen can be viewed by both doctor and patient.

And in the seven operating rooms, there are no wires underfoot. Huge metal booms suspended from the ceiling hold an array of materials — lights, computer monitors, equipment trays — all instantly reachable, no bending required.

Concentrated health care

Plans to move Group Health's primary Eastside facility date back about six years, said Jill Ostrem, the health-care organization's vice president for East King County. That's when it became apparent the previous Eastside site in the Overlake area of Redmond was too isolated — too far from other medical facilities.

In 2003, Overlake and Group Health entered into a cooperative arrangement to concentrate health-care services along 116th Avenue Northeast. As expanded medical facilities began locating in the area, the city moved to capitalize on the trend and designated the area as a medical district.

Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center is now planning a facility on 6.6 acres nearby. A sign on the Group Health campus will mark a gateway to the district.

The new $120 million medical center will have about 125 physicians, 125 nurses and about 60 other employees, and is expected to do about 380 surgeries a month; the building has 674 parking spaces on four parking levels.

Special clinics include an ambulatory-surgery center, a behavioral-health center, an eye-care center, a diagnostic center, a pulmonary center and a 24-hour urgent-care center.

One feature is missing, however, joked Sandblom.

"Unfortunately, we couldn't build a tunnel to Whole Foods," he said, noting that one must cross the street to reach the natural-foods supermarket.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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