Tower Assist

Just 10 years ago, the land near the intersection of Interstate 164 and the Lloyd Expressway brimmed with untapped potential. The location, convenient to patients in Newburgh, other outlying areas, and Evansville’s fast-growing East Side, became home to The Women’s Hospital in 2001. The healthcare facility’s quick success showed administrators of Deaconess Health System (which owns The Women’s Hospital) that the area — straddling the Vanderburgh and Warrick county lines — was a prime location.

Deaconess, the region’s largest employer, operates six hospitals and more than 40 sites across the Tri-State. The Gateway campus has continued to grow, most recently with the $60-plus million addition to Deaconess Gateway Hospital. The new, six-story tower at Gateway opened last fall; it complements the hospital’s first tower, completed in January 2006.

The current addition (called Tower 2 by Deaconess employees) always has been part of the long-term plan for Gateway, although it initially wasn’t slated to open until at least 2014. But when the first tower opened, “the volume shot up,” says Bruce Epmeier, vice president of facilities and support services for Deaconess Health System, as patients arrived from Evansville’s East Side, Newburgh, and outlying areas.

The health system broke ground on the new addition in April 2009. Fourteen months later, in June 2010, several areas were complete and functional: a new loading dock and support services, a third-floor mechanical area, and a second-floor endoscopy unit. By November, the fourth, fifth, and sixth floors had opened to patients. The tower’s initial capacity was 56 beds, but it included vacant “shell space” to be configured for a maximum capacity of 110 beds. Areas in the greatest demand, predicts Epmeier, will be orthopedics and intensive care units. “We’re seeing a lot of growth in ortho cases,” he says, due to the aging population undergoing procedures such as joint replacements.

Also, because of a shortage of ICU beds, the hospital often would go “on diversion” — telling emergency medical responders to divert patients to other local healthcare facilities. “Our research shows this trend continuing,” said Deaconess spokesman Sam Rogers during the tower’s construction phase. “If beds aren’t added, the problem only will get worse.” (Since Tower 2 opened, Deaconess has been able to meet patients’ needs between its campuses instead of referring patients elsewhere.)

For inpatients, rooms were designed according to modern expectations. “People want a lot of room for their families and visitors,” Epmeier says, “and they want it private.” Although the rooms house one patient each, they’re 25 to 30 percent larger than rooms at Deaconess’ main campus (built in the ’60s and ’70s near Downtown Evansville). Studies show private rooms lower the risk of hospital-acquired infection by 11 percent, says Rogers, and patients report higher satisfaction when they stay in private rooms.

The units, too, have been designed for safer, more efficient care. Units are built around a center corridor, which makes caregivers’ trips for supplies faster and reduces hallway traffic. Computers are positioned by windows that allow nurses to check on patients while charting. Deaconess’ new EPIC system of electronic medical records went live in November 2009 for hospital inpatients, and the system aims to improve safety and accuracy: Before dispensing a medication, staff scans a bar code and a patient’s wristband. The system flashes an alert message if something is awry.

The additions at Gateway and the new electronic medical records aren’t the only changes at the health system. Deaconess Hospital’s main campus also is undergoing renovations. The hospital’s patient rooms will be converted to 275 private rooms, and older facilities such as the 1960-built Hahn Building no longer will be used for inpatient care. A new 22-bed ICU/step-down unit is planned, and construction is underway to expand the size of the emergency department and operating rooms. With the advent of laparoscopy, robotic surgery, and other developments, “the less invasive a procedure is,” Epmeier says, “the more equipment and space you require.”

Due to the investment at Deaconess Gateway Hospital, some may wonder if the health system eventually will close its Downtown hospital. The speculations are false, Epmeier says: As the population ages and the demand for health care increases, “we’re going to need both hospitals.”

For more on Deaconess Gateway Hospital and Deaconess Health System’s locations and services, visit

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