A decision has been delayed for the fourth month on a proposal from Providence St. Mary Medical Center for expansion of its outpatient care.

A letter to the hospital this week from the Washington State Department of Health said the decision to grant a Certificate of Need will be delayed 30 more days until June 24.

The delay comes as the Certificate of Need program is behind schedule with its current workload, the letter said.

The process is crucial for St. Mary to move forward with plans to expand ambulatory services — procedures and surgeries that keep patients fewer than 24 hours — at the Providence Southgate Medical Park.

Providence has proposed using a portion of the former Walla Walla General Hospital for two operating rooms and two procedure rooms for outpatient surgical care.

The regulatory process is intended to help curb overbuilding of facilities and services that could otherwise lead to supply-and-demand-driven health care inflation.

A proposal from Walla Walla Clinic to expand ambulatory care was approved this year. The clinic’s proposal sought to open underused space in its three-room surgical facility by opening its operating rooms to more community physicians.

The state’s initial decision on Providence’s application was scheduled for last October. However, in December the Certificate of Need Program delayed a decision while awaiting additional construction details from Providence. The revised due date for the evaluation was Feb. 22. Since then, a decision has been delayed each month.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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