How would West Seattle survive a disaster with no hospital?

By Jack Mayne
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

West Seattle residents and civic leaders met Wednesday to discuss what would happen if an earthquake or other disaster cut off the community from the rest of Seattle and its hospitals and other emergency facilities – considering there’s been no hospital here for some 20 years.

The “Hospital Without Walls” meeting at Delridge Community Center was sponsored by Senior Services of Seattle/King County, the non-profit that runs several area senior centers and other senior services.

The biggest concern expressed in the fact-gathering session was the lack of a hospital or an emergency care facility and the unlikelihood that a new hospital could or would be built here.

Swedish operates a West Seattle walk-in care facility but no beds to handle injured persons. A facility in The Junction operated by Highline Medical Center of Burien was closed a few years ago and a Group Health facility was closed, said some of the 21 people who attended the session, which was moderated by former city Department of Neighborhoods director Jim Diers and Joanne Donohue, vice president of Senior Services.

Some noted that the recent icy weather demonstrated that both West Seattle bridges could be closed at the same time, virtually cutting off 100,000 people from timely access to major downtown hospitals and other care facilities.

“The nearest hospital is Highline in Burien, but there are several hills and there is no fast route to it from West Seattle,” said one member of the audience. Others noted there was an outpatient facility operated by Highline in White Center.

The group decided it would be critical to have a listing of all possible services, and of where people should go or to call for information. The West Seattle Be Prepared resource came up (honored last weekend with a West Seattle Volunteer Recognition Award) – that includes the local Emergency Communication Hubs.

The group plans to meet again, and other meetings on community problems will be sponsored by Senior Services, said Joanne Donohue.

26 Replies to "How would West Seattle survive a disaster with no hospital?"

  • Jeff December 9, 2010 (8:21 pm)

    Find a mirror and take a good look at the only person you can REALLY count on no matter what. It’s really unsettling, but it’s true.

  • RG December 9, 2010 (8:34 pm)

    Shelter-in-place. Have enough supplies and realize that during a community disaster there is no 911. Encourage neighbors to have enough supplies for themselves as well.

  • dsa December 9, 2010 (9:17 pm)

    Is emergency helicopter service available?

  • Cheryl December 9, 2010 (10:05 pm)

    With a little kid, I worry about this ALL the time. After what happened w/ the Thanksgiving week snowstorm? I worry even more. I think @RG is right. Be prepared to shelter-in-place. And then pray you never need emergency hospitalization in case of weather or other natural disasters that WILL cut us off from the rest of Seattle. :-(

  • beth December 9, 2010 (10:12 pm)

    Could a make-shift triage be set up at Mt. St. Vincent?

  • Georgie Bright Kunkel December 9, 2010 (10:22 pm)

    West Seattle used to have a hospital on the second floor of a building now housing the Supplement Store I believe. I had my four children there I don’t know why West Seattle couldn’t figure out how to get a small hospital set up for emergency service at least.

    My first child, born in 1947, cost $50 for the
    doctor and $100 for the hospital. Our oldest daughter was born and cost us $100 for the hospital and $100 for the doctor. That was before we had any health insurance at all. Those were the days, right?

  • ltfd December 9, 2010 (11:10 pm)

    During a major disaster, with the bridges down/out-of-service, Highline Medical Center would be the default hospital for West Seattle residents in need.

    Eventually, probably within the first 12 hours, Water Taxi/Foot Ferry service would be available to move patients from West Seattle to the downtown waterfront. WSF would probably also make a vessel available for Fauntleroy to Coleman Dock- it will depend upon what the state and various Emergency Operations Centers come up with for a post-disaster transport plan.

    Initially, USCG, police and fire department vessels might also be available to move critical patients from West Seattle towards the downtown hospitals. Again, it will be dependent upon the disaster’s scope and the regional allocation of scarce resources.

    Follow the first posters advice: 3 day supply of food & water, robust first aid kit, have a neighborhood plan.

  • emcat December 9, 2010 (11:43 pm)

    The idea of having a place to call for help in an emergency is laughable. After the last earthquake, I was trapped downtown, waiting hours and hours for a bus to get home. I tried for those same hours to get hold of my dad so I could have him drive into the city and bring me home… and it took all those hours to get hold of him. The cell and land lines were always busy. The next day it took three and a half hours for my bus ride into work — the viaduct was closed, and most of First Ave. was blocked off with work on natural gas or electric lines. It was a nightmare, not all that unlike the recent snow.

    We can’t count on anything or anyone — certainly not the city or county infrastructure — here in a disaster. The city doesn’t do much of anything for us over here. Kind of makes me nostalgic for the WS secessionists I remember back when I was a kid.

  • Gemma December 10, 2010 (2:37 am)

    West Seattle used to have a community hospital on Holden st. It was a great facility there was even a ER but a the group of Drs that owned it went bankrupt because of HMO’s the hospital closed down and is now a different facility not sure what though. It’s a shame though perfect location too.

  • Ron Angeles December 10, 2010 (7:04 am)

    One of the first community issues I was involved in when I started working in West Seattle over 20 years ago was the future of West Seattle Community Hospital on 28th and Holden. I worked with many very dedicated, business leaders and community minded West Seattle citizens looking at various options to keep the hospital from closing, as well as, advocate for 24 hr. urgent care services. The primarily reasons for closing were financial, but there was a growing opinion that the quality of care at WSCH was also inferior. Furthermore, the hospital, although it called itself a “community” hospital, was actually owned by a non-local, private entity that owned other medical facilities throughout the country. One option considered to keep the hospital open and placed more into local control was to create a health district (added property taxes for those living within the health district) similar to the Renton Health District that helps finance Valley Medical Center. When a survey was done (I think 500 register voters in West Seattle were contacted) to determine support, the results were only 40% strongly supported the idea, which was according to political experts a risky and probably expensive campaign to place to the voters.

    The property was eventually sold in an auction to Highline/West Seattle Mental Health, now called NAVOS, providing comprehensive inpatient and outpatient mental health services to families and youth in West Seattle.

  • sean98125 December 10, 2010 (7:26 am)

    Hospitals cost money to operate. A lot of money. And they need to be active all of the time, not just during emergencies.

    People in West Seattle will still be a lot closer to some of the best hospitals in the country than most even if the Spokane Street viaduct and both West Seattle bridges collapse. And while it would take a few more minutes to get to Highline, it isn’t that far.

  • kg December 10, 2010 (8:08 am)

    It seems as though everyone is assuming that the health care infrastructure and health care workers will get by unscathed in a disaster. The first poster, Jeff, in this thread had the best advice.

  • PA916 December 10, 2010 (9:33 am)

    As a medical provider in the West Seattle area, it has always worried me that the hospitals are so far away from West Seattle. Rarely have I been to West Seattle and has there not be an accident or heavy traffic between the hospitals and W Seattle. Not to mention, no shoulders to let aid cars pass…

    Yes there is Highline, but I really think that West Seattle could benefit from a Community hospital that all patients could go to, with an ER, ICU, and a general floor. At least a holding area to stabilize patients and triage them to the bigger hospitals if need be. Plus all the nurses who live in W Seattle wouldn’t have that wretched commute.

    W Seattle is a huge piece of land and will only continue to grow as it is one of the more affordable neighborhoods in town. North Seattle has Northwest hospital, why can’t there be a Southwest hospital??

    Yes, of course, have a 3 day supply in case of an emergency. But what if your elderly loved one is showing signs of confusion, or an increase in lower leg edema? While not an emergency, they still need to get in to see a doctor as those are early signs of further complications…

  • Mike Perry December 10, 2010 (9:34 am)

    A friend who lives on Lake Washington at the foot of a steep hillside had a similar problem when her heater broken down in very cold weather. The Seattle Police brought in someone to repair it on one of their boats. Water can work when roads don’t.

    Having a hospital for once-in-a-decade events makes no sense. West Seattle should develop plans to divert a ferry into a floating ambulance for transporting the sick and injured from their docks to those downtown. If we have a major quake or a big freeze, we won’t be needing those ferries for commuters anyway.

  • Plan? December 10, 2010 (10:04 am)

    So what were the conclusions from the meeting and what is the path forward? Were any task forces created? It seems that we need to plan a best possible outcome for a worst possible scenario. We have a number of comprehensive care clinics around the peninsula as well as designated disaster centers. It seems like the best plan would be to designate West Seattle resident doctors who could respond in the case of a disaster and to designate a clinic to stock emergency medications. The latter is, of course, is not without cost, so we probably need a federal grant to fund the acquisition and maintenance of an emergency medicine stockpile and a roster of possible volunteer doctors and nurses. It seems like the Red Cross could help local health leaders to set this up. Area nursing homes clearly have financial incentive to have a disaster plan in place, so should play a planning and financial role.

  • RG December 10, 2010 (10:32 am)

    The 1st post by Jeff sums it up exactly. For example, when the “big one” hits there will not be a 911 or emergency responders available to help you. You have to assume that. Hospitals will have their disaster plan in place and you won’t even be able to get in the front door. If you live close to one you might get triaged outside but if you can make it to the hospital then you aren’t in dire need. As for meds, all hospitals will get their emergency meds from the national stock pile. Have a plan and be prepared to rely on yourself. Know your local emergency hub location. And please, don’t expect your cell phone to work.

  • AG December 10, 2010 (10:39 am)

    I am very interested in the outcome of this. I got extremely ill and required emergency services during the recent snow/ice storms, and it was very difficult to get to the ER. We made it, but it wasn’t easy, fun or timely. Had it been a heart attack or major trauma rather than what I had, it would have been much, much worse.

  • Peggy Van Aller December 10, 2010 (11:47 am)

    I grew up in West Seattle and at one point (4-8yrs old), my family lived up on 30th & Holden, just up the hill from the West Seattle General Hospital (I think it was called this). My mom even walked to the hospital in labor with my youngest brother.

    I always thought it was a shame when the hospital was closed. Highline Hospital is a bit of a hump when someone needs emergency services.

  • Noelle December 10, 2010 (12:08 pm)

    West Seattle is NOT some a far flung Island in the Pacific ocean. West Seattle is a peninsula, last I checked anyway. If you go far enough south, you hit Burien and Tukwilla and all the south end. Yes, the bridges will be useless in a big earthquake or a monstrous storm. West Seattle-ites will be able to get help from the south end, though it might take some time to get up here. 3 days is a good amount of time to think about hunkering down in an emergency. Having enough food, water, medicine and other supplies to last you is just smart.

  • doug December 10, 2010 (1:24 pm)

    What a joke no hospital in 20 years with no problem so no need. The reason the clinics are closing is lack of need no one comes in for treatment doors close simple.

  • mom of 3 boys December 10, 2010 (1:42 pm)

    And, as a data point, you have Medic One units, with Paramedics who can treat you – and who can get in touch with MD’s in an emergency…..

  • JM December 10, 2010 (2:25 pm)

    Your community could benefit by looking into Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) and perhaps the Medical Reserve Corp (MRC). Both programs are part of FEMA’s Citizen’s Corp disaster prep programs.

    Here’s some more info:

    You can also check with your local Fire Department on how to get training and get your neighborhoods organized.

  • BCK December 10, 2010 (2:30 pm)

    Um, hello city dwellers. Many areas of this state won’t have access to a major hospital in the event of a major disaster. People on the outer coast. The islands. Small towns in the foothills and mountains. Let’s face it, folks in the city have grown used to a culture where every need is addressed and every service provided. The real secret to disaster preparedness is to embrace a culture of self-sufficiency, common sense, and neighbors helping neighbors. AND- an acceptance of the fact that sometimes big scary things happen.

  • LJ December 10, 2010 (3:13 pm)

    Highline still has a clinic in The Junction, it is on the bottom floor of the apartment building I live in on 41st Avenue SW & SW Alaska Street…….I have only lived here 8 years and it has been here as long as I remember………..

  • RG December 10, 2010 (3:29 pm)

    BCK is right on; it’s all about self-sufficiency.

    Prepare to not have a phone, internet, 911, KCM1, electricity, or water.

    See my above post about sheltering-in-place.

    I’ve been a member of a CERT team and have taken all of the FEMA ICS courses; I’m prepared to sheleter-in-place.

    I’ll have my radio and will monitor emergency net traffic (I have a license) but I won’t be handling messages, I’ll be taking care of my family and immediate neighbors.

    Please be prepared.

    PS this is my last post on this topic…

  • Karen Berge December 13, 2010 (9:37 am)

    As part of the West Seattle Be Prepared group, I want to call your attention to the Medical & First Aid page of our website ( We’ve tried to make it comprehensive and useful, including interactive maps of area hospitals. If you know of other information or resources that we should include there, please let us know!

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