FAIRHOPE – After years of planning and an infusion of funds via its acquisition by Mobile-based Infirmary Health System, Thomas Hospital is beginning a new era. The Eastern Shore health care provider recently received state approval to begin …
FAIRHOPE – After years of planning and an infusion of funds via its acquisition by Mobile-based Infirmary Health System, Thomas Hospital is beginning a new era. The Eastern Shore health care provider recently received state approval to begin construction of a four-story, $40 million addition housing a new emergency department and additional patient rooms.
With the state certificate of need in hand, contractors can immediately begin demolition of older buildings on the site where the North Tower will be built. The location is just east of the hospital’s existing emergency room, which will also be leveled once the new building is complete and the facility is operational.
“We are very excited to be moving forward with this project,” Phil Cusa, administrator of Thomas Hospital stated in a press release. “The growth in population in Baldwin County is tremendous, and this expansion will help us accommodate that growth well into the future.”
The new, state-of-the-art emergency department will include 28 treatment rooms, instead of the nine rooms the hospital now has. The revamped department will also feature a fast-track component for non-critical emergencies and urgent care-type patients, and a separate area designated for trauma patients.
“The number of patients that come through our Emergency Department has risen dramatically over the past decade,” Cusa stated. “We had more than 26,000 patients come through the ER last year, which is about 53 percent more than in 1997.”
The North Tower will include 64 new patient rooms – 32 on the second floor and 32 on the third floor. The fourth floor will be left unfinished for future growth.
Thomas now operates 129 beds, but is licensed for 150. Diana Brewer, the hospital’s director of marketing and public relations, said the expansion will fill in the blanks.
“We will get up to our licensed capacity,” Brewer said, “but the certificate of need is not about licensed beds. There’s a threshold of how much money you can spend.” Because the project will cost more than what the state automatically allows, permission had to be sought.
The hospital will add 21 beds and replace 43 beds now located in the older part of the hospital. Cusa thinks the changes should meet future needs.
“Our inpatient census is projected to increase 20 percent by the year 2010,” he said, “so getting to our licensed bed capacity will help us accommodate that growth.”
Called the largest expansion project Thomas Hospital has ever undertaken, the new tower was designed by Walcott Adams Verneuille and Gresham Smith and Partners. HOAR Construction is the general contractor.
“We’re still working on the details of the plan,” Brewer said. Among the amenities expected to be included in the North Tower are natural lighting, a healing garden, health resource centers, family oriented waiting areas, computer desks in each room and comfortable seating for visitors. A meeting to iron out some of the details was scheduled to be held Friday morning, but the outcome was not known prior to press time.
Actual construction will begin in July. Hospital officials estimate the addition will be completed in January 2009.
“Demolition should begin any day now,” Brewer said. “They are doing the prep work for demolition.”
Parking will be harder to come by than normal, however, until a new employee parking lot is completed in a month or so. Several spaces were lost when a chain-link fence was erected around the construction site, and it will remain there until the project is close to completion.
Hospital security personnel are gearing up in the meantime to guarantee that anyone who parks near the existing emergency entrance is indeed supposed to be there.
Brewer said, “We’re going to work very hard to police that area to make sure those who park there are emergency room patients.” She said there are still quite a few parking spaces remaining outside the emergency entrance, and additional signage will be installed to let drivers know where they can and can’t park.
Brewer also pointed out that those who drive themselves to the emergency room needn’t worry if they’re admitted to the hospital before or after the North Tower is open. They will not be required to step outside to move their vehicle before being wheeled to a room.