Just a few years ago, it was not unusual for Tacoma General patients to spend hours waiting for treatment in an overcrowded emergency room. The hospital’s 40,000 patients per year had taken a toll on the facility, often forcing physicians to treat patients in hallways and on stretchers, testing their ability to provide efficient, high-quality care. “It was very difficult for us to provide the level of care we have always been proud of,” said Sara Long, vice president of philanthropy at Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation.
MultiCare embarked on a capital campaign to make much needed improvements to the emergency departments of Tacoma General and the adjoining Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, which had been facing similar challenges with its 32,000 patients per year. This significant expansion to both emergency departments was a massive undertaking, made possible in large part due to a $1 million donation from the Puyallup Tribe.
Tribal Councilwoman Marguerite Edwards presented the third $200,000 installment of the gift earlier this month.
“Our ability to make this type of donation means a great deal to us,” Edwards said. “Not only do our children reap the benefits of this contribution, but Tacoma-area children will also receive better care, and we want that for everyone.”
The gift was coordinated in an effort to strengthen what has become a mutually beneficial relationship, while also helping the tribe reach its goal of supporting community health services in the greater Tacoma region.
Thanks to this contribution, the adjoining emergency departments of Tacoma General and Mary Bridge expanded from a small footprint to spanning the length of an entire football field – including both end zones. “This expansion has had a huge impact on our community,” Long said. “Most importantly, patients very rarely have to wait to receive treatment in our emergency rooms.”
The grand opening for the new emergency rooms took place in 2010, and the tribe has already seen benefits that extend far beyond improved care. MultiCare has made significant efforts to not only understand tribal culture, but to make adjustments and policy changes to accommodate these practices.
“I cannot emphasize how much I appreciate their willingness to incorporate cultural elements into the facility,” Edwards said. “Because of this contribution, we are being heard, and that makes a difference in the care that our membership receives.”
MultiCare asked for representatives from the Puyallup Tribe to attend a meeting later this month to discuss how to make their services more culturally appropriate for tribal members. “We would very much like someone from the tribe to participate in making sure our design and processes are culturally sensitive to tribal needs,” Long said. “We want to make sure the tribe has a voice in how we provide care, and we want to be sensitive to their needs in everything we do.”
Tribal patients often have a significant number of family members visiting them in the hospital, due to typically strong extended families. “Often times, if there is a family member in the hospital, there are usually 15 to 30 people who will want to visit,” Edwards said. “Providing more space, and the kinds of rooms that accommodate a medicine man are things we shouldn’t need to beg for.”
Back in the 1970s, the expected life span of a Puyallup Indian was 45 years old, and improving healthcare for its members quickly became a goal for the tribe. “This life expectancy is no longer true, but that is only because we placed such an emphasis on improving healthcare,” Edwards said. “We have pushed the agenda of good healthcare for our members, and having that history of such a short life expectancy reminds us how important it is to provide comprehensive healthcare. It took the tribe to fight for what we needed.”