Providence St. Mary Medical Center has received approval to proceed with its free-standing outpatient surgery center, the hospital announced this morning.

After numerous delays, the state Department of Health notified St. Mary on Wednesday it has been approved for a Certificate of Need.

The approval is a vital step for St. Mary to move forward on its outpatient surgical center at the Providence Southgate Medical Park.

The Certificate of Need process measures demand based on population. The step is designed to help regulate medical services so

that overbuilding doesn’t lead to health care inflation.

In January, Walla Walla Clinic received approval for a Certificate of Need to expand capacity at its Tietan Street outpatient surgical center. That plan aims to better use the space by allowing more community physicians to work in the existing three-room surgical facility.

Both proposals are intended to fill in for services and capacity lost with the closure almost two years ago of Walla Walla General Hospital.

“The Providence Ambulatory Surgery Center will help address the health care needs that exist today and also prepare us for the future,” St. Mary Chief Executive Susan Blackburn said in a prepared statement.

Providence said in its announcement this morning the goal is to open the Providence Ambulatory Surgery Center in 2020 at the Providence Southgate Medical Park, the site of the former General Hospital surgical department.

The $6.7 million renovations will create two operating rooms and two endoscopy procedure rooms.

Providence said the facility will have the potential to increase surgical capacity in Walla Walla by about 2,000 surgeries and 1,300 endoscopies per year in a setting that is less expensive than a traditional hospital.

Demand for more outpatient surgeries increases as procedures take place in ambulatory surgical centers. Joint replacements are an example of such surgeries. Outpatient joint replacements are expected to become common in the next five to 10 years, Providence said.

“Providence looks forward to continuing our century-long commitment to the health of this community by providing the right care in the most cost-effective setting for our patients,” Blackburn said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

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.