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Elkhart General gearing up for major, $60 million expansion

Numerous plans are afoot to upgrade Elkhart General Hospital, most notably a $60 million project to build new operating rooms.
Posted on Sept. 16, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Big changes are coming to modernize Elkhart General Hospital, some in the works, some still in the planning stages.

Most notably, hospital officials plan to add two new floors to the West Wing of the facility within perhaps three years to make way for new operating rooms. The price tag is an estimated $60 million.

“This is easily the biggest project in Elkhart General history,” said Phil Newbold, head of Beacon Health System, the new parent companty that oversees EGH and Memorial Hospital of South Bend.

“It’s a whole lot of work that’s happening around here,” added Greg Losasso, the EGH president.

Additionally, some $10 million in remodeling plans are afoot, which, when all is said in done, will result in more private rooms in EGH’s Post Surgical Care Unit and its Total Joint Unit, which handles knee and hip replacement operations. Private rooms enhance patient comfort, says Losasso, and help lower the threat of spreading infection.

“That is really the biggest thing we’re trying to accomplish here, is get to as many private rooms as possible,” he said.

The decision last year by EGH and Memorial to unite into the two-hospital Beacon system, while not necessarily the spur to the varied plans, seems to be greasing the wheels permitting their completion.

Significantly, being in a two-hospital system with Memorial — both are non-profit facilities — raises the creditworthiness of EGH in the eyes of lenders, Losasso said. That, in turn, will mean a likely reduction in the interest rate on the bonds EGH plans to pursue to finance the West Wing expansion, saving money.

Following are details of some of the looming plans.

TWO NEW FLOORS

The oldest part of the EGH facility on East Boulevard in west Elkhart was built in 1908, according to Losasso. Several additions have been made since then, but two new floors for operating rooms, in dollar terms, would be the largest new project.

Currently there are 10 operating rooms, located on the first floor of the main EGH structure. It would be disruptive to gut the existing rooms and rebuild there, and actually more expensive than building anew, according to Losasso. Hence the plans to add to the West Wing, first completed in the 2000s, turning it into a five-story structure.

Hospital officials will work with surgeons and consultants in detailing the plans and construction which will probably start next year. Work, Losasso hopes, will be done by 2015.

There may actually be fewer operating rooms following construction — that’s still up for debate — but they should be larger and able to accommodate the latest technology. The new high-tech space should also serve as a lure to new physicians.

Use of the space where the operating rooms currently sit, once vacated, still has to be figured out. Likewise, a route to the new operating rooms from the EGH Emergency Room would have to be created, perhaps via a skywalk of some sort.

MORE PRIVATE ROOMS

EGH’s Pediatric Unit on the third floor of the main building will be moved to a little used space in the West Wing, probably this fall. The Total Joint Unit, also on the third floor, will in turn be moved to the space vacated by the Pediatric Unit, probably by the summer of 2013.

The shift will allow the joint unit to shift solely to private rooms, 16 of them, for recovering patients. “It will just create a much better environment,” said Losasso.

As is, the Total Joint Unit has 16 beds, but they’re spread among seven semi-private rooms with two beds each and two private rooms.

The Post Surgical Care Unit, where patients also go to recover after operations, will take over the adjacent old Total Joint Unit space, once vacated, giving it more room and allowing for a shift to solely private rooms, 31 of them. As is, the unit has 16 private rooms and six semi-private rooms for a total of 28 beds.

Hospital officials don’t yet have a time frame for the Post Surgical Care Unit expansion.

All told, the shift of the three units should cost around $10 million.

HIGHER TECH MRI UNIT

The hospital plans to buy a new magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, machine, a diagnostic tool, at a cost of $2.5 million to $2.6 million.

It’ll be bigger, able to handle patients weighing 500 pounds, up from 350 pounds, and it will be shorter, three-feet long instead of eight feet, better for handling claustrophobic patients. It will also create better images.

The existing MRI unit, in the Radiology Department, is 18 years old and the new one should be installed by January.

TRAUMA CARE, DOCTORS

Other changes afoot include conversion of the EGH Emergency Room into a Level 3 trauma unit, allowing the hospital here to handle a broader range of trauma cases, and conversion to a new electronic medical record system.

Affiliation with Memorial assists on both counts. The South Bend hospital has a Level 2 trauma unit, so EGH reps can tap the expertise of their counterparts at Memorial. Similarly, EGH is shifting to the sort of record-keeping system in place at Memorial and local hospital officials can learn from the experience of those in South Bend.

EGH has also opened a new wound clinic and two new doctors will soon come on board, a neurologist in October and a neurosurgeon in November.


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