One hundred years ago, a small group of doctors arrived in Tacoma to offer services in their area of expertise: radiology.
These pioneers in this emerging field, which involves reading and interpreting diagnostic imagery in an effort to improve patients’ health and well-being, were Raymond MacRae, Charles Ross Fishel, and Elba McCarty. MacRae later went on to be a partner in founding Tacoma Radiological Associates (TRA), while Fishel went on to be a founder of Medical Imaging Northwest (MINW).
For decades, TRA and MINW were go-to firms for radiology; reading x-rays; and soliciting their expertise to Allenmore Medical Center, Puget Sound Hospital, St. Joseph Medical Center, Tacoma General Hospital, and other leading South Sound medical facilities. The two firms operated parallel to one another, each dedicated to serving the South Sound community and keeping up with the latest industry technologies and practices.
Thanks to TRA and MINW, Washington acquired its first CT scanner and Tacoma saw its first ultrasound procedures, MRI scanner, PET scanner, and dedicated mammography center.
So, when the two companies united in January 2017 to become TRA Medical Imaging, it was a singular and special merger.
“History-wise, (the two companies can) trace (their) roots to the same place,” said Dr. Douglas Seiler, president of TRA Medical Imaging, who interpreted the union of these two companies as “a coming back together.”
According to Seiler, the merger allowed TRA to remain competitive against larger national companies by offering more doctors to provide around-the-clock care for stroke patients, as well as expanding its pediatric care services — all while continuing to honor the personal, community-focused spirit that makes TRA unique.
And while TRA’s pioneering history in South Sound radiology is unparalleled, the company also has embarked on some nonmedical approaches to expansion, innovation, and community involvement in order to continue its progressive trajectory.
One example is found in many of the buildings TRA occupies. To wit: The company’s 11,827-square-foot outpatient clinic in Tacoma on Union Avenue updated, expanded, and “refreshed” a building that had stood there for decades. The clinic opened in summer 2017.
“One thing we did with the Union (Avenue) location was to reuse and upcycle as many of the materials as possible to make sure that construction was very eco-friendly and cost-effective,” said TRA CEO and CFO Chris Coates. Seiler and Coates worked closely with Douglas McNutt, principal at Salus Architecture, and Sunset Pacific General Contractors to design a building that maximizes environmental sustainability practices. Seventy percent of existing materials were upcycled into the refurbished building, and no waste was created by tearing down the existing structure.
Beyond the eco-conscious thought put into its construction, the building was designed to be a calming space that reassures rather than intimidates patients.
“There has been a lot of research that concludes that people don’t want to go into a sterile-feeling healthcare environment because it raises anxiety,” said Coates. “The look and feel of everything in that facility was deliberate to make it feel more like a retail location or a coffee shop. When you go into a Starbucks, it probably doesn’t make you anxious. But when you go into a sterile clinical facility, your anxiety levels might rise and your perception of what that visit will look like might be different, just based (on) the aesthetics of the building.”
TRA’s employees have benefitted from this thinking, as well. After MINW and TRA merged, the need to establish a single call center became a top priority. The company bought and refurbished a vacant building in University Place that once housed The Keg restaurant. In March, employees moved into the building, which is now a consolidated call center that serves every TRA patient.
“We kept a lot of the original character in place,” said Coates, referring to the gorgeous space designed by TRA, Salus Architecture, and Sunset Pacific. The former restaurant’s original brick walls, two fireplaces, and bar were preserved to serve as a lounge and event space for staff. Coates hopes the space will be a point of both pride and productivity for the company’s employees.
Outside of brick-and-mortar improvements, TRA continues to hire highly trained radiologists to best serve the community’s myriad needs. A pioneering spirit endures today, according to Seiler, as does a commitment to the community, which is expressed through generous payment options and free charity care, among other things.
“Our goal is to offer the biggest and best services available, but in a family-friendly and community-focused sort of environment,” he added.
Coates agreed. “Our focus is to be great physicians and great clinicians, but we also have a huge sense of pride in being a part of this community,” he said. “We’ve been around for generations, and we hope to be around for generations to come.”
First radiologists began practice in Pierce County: Drs. Raymond MacRae, Charles Ross Fishel, and Elba McCarty.
First radiation therapy at Tacoma General Hospital
Drs. Raymond MacRae, John Flynn and Frank Rigos joined to found TRA.
Drs. Steven Sanderson (right) and Ken Gross (left) joined to found MINW.
TRA has six radiologists; MINW has three.
First ultrasound scanner in Tacoma
First nuclear medicine department in Tacoma
First CT scanner in Washington state at Tacoma General
First MRI scanner in South Sound at TRA on Union
First PET Scanner in Pierce County
First dedicated mammography center in Tacoma — Carol Milgard Breast Center — opens as a partnership between Tacoma radiologists.
TRA and MINW merge to provide imaging services to 12 hospitals and multiple clinics in Pierce County, South King County, and Thurston County.
TRA Medical Imaging celebrates its centennial anniversary.