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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Tower Assist

On a September morning, the new tower at Deaconess Gateway Hospital was populated by construction employees sporting hard hats, safety goggles, and orange T-shirts. In November, medical staff in scrubs will replace those workers when the tower’s six floors open to hospital patients.

The $60-plus million addition to Gateway complements the hospital’s first tower, completed in January 2006. With no land available to expand its main campus north of Downtown, Deaconess opted to build the new hospital near the intersection of Interstate 164 and the Lloyd Expressway. The success of The Women’s Hospital, which opened at that location five years earlier, gave Deaconess leaders confidence that the area was a prime location for a new medical facility.

But in the fall of 2008, as the economy dipped and Deaconess prepared to break ground on the new tower, businesses around the nation wondered: Was it the right time to tackle bold expansions? Should building projects be scaled back, postponed, or canceled? For Deaconess, the region’s largest employer, the answer was to forge ahead. “We had factors outside the economy that would drive demand, mainly the aging population,” says Bruce Epmeier, vice president of facilities and support services for Deaconess Health System.

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

The health system broke ground on the new tower 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. This fall, Gateway staff prepares to move in medical supplies and equipment in time to open more areas in November.

The tower’s initial capacity is 56 beds, but it includes vacant “shell space” that can be configured for a maximum capacity of 110 beds. The shell space will be developed according to needs that emerge after the tower opens. 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 must go “on diversion” — telling emergency medical responders to divert patients to other local healthcare facilities. Gateway typically is on diversion once or twice a week, for hours or even a full day. “Our research shows this trend continuing,” says Deaconess spokesman Sam Rogers. “If beds aren’t added, the problem only will get worse.”

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). 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, which employs nearly 5,500 in the Tri-State, 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.”

Deaconess Gateway Hospital Expansion By the Numbers:
3: Towers included in Deaconess Gateway Hospital’s strategic plan
19: Months between Tower 2 groundbreaking in April 2009 and opening in November 2010
216.5: Thousand, approximate square footage of new addition
60-62: Million dollars, cost of project
90: Percent of construction work performed by local companies
250: Workers on site during peak construction (spring 2010)

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