Hospitals in Starkville, Tupelo and Oxford tackle major construction

For the next few years, hard hats will be as common as lab coats around Northeast Mississippi hospitals.
OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville has construction under way; North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo is preparing to break ground; and Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi is getting serious about plans for a new hospital in Oxford.
With the sheer volume of visitors, patients and staff and the relentless march of medical technology, hospitals almost always have some renovation or construction project in the works.
But these major projects will remake the face of each hospital.
The expansion-renovation projects in Starkville and Tupelo are rooted in the need to replace decades-old patient rooms.
In Oxford, the proposals for a new hospital are driven by its current landlocked campus with little room for future growth.
“Everybody is trying to do the right thing for their patient populations,” said Don Hudson, Baptist Memorial chief executive.
Leaders at all three hospitals said they do not expect fees for hospital services to increase to pay for construction.

OCH Regional Medical Center, Starkville
Project: West tower expansion, renovation
Cost: $32.3 million
Status: New construction under way
Expected completion: New tower: 2011; renovations in existing west and north wings: 2012

In Starkville, a construction crane looms over OCH Regional Medical Center, and the beginnings of support columns are sprouting from the footprint of the Westward expansion.
“We’re actually ahead of schedule,” said Mike Shelton, physical plant director for the 96-bed hospital.
The construction of the new wing, which will have four floors and a basement, began in April and is scheduled to be complete in 2011.
“Once the new building is completed, contractors will begin renovating patient rooms in the west and north wings,” Shelton said.
When the project is completed in 2012, the hospital’s 96 patient rooms will more than double in size – going from 100 to 250 square feet – and they all will have private bathrooms, Shelton said.
Currently all patient rooms have toilets, but not necessarily showers.
The larger rooms mean more room for caregivers and medical technology, as well as patients and their families, Shelton said.
The county-owned hospital has been able to make the most of its $32.3 million project budget, which is funded by bonds approved by Oktibbeha County voters in November 2008.
The national recession hit construction firms just before OCH started the bidding process.
“I think the timing was perfect,” Shelton said. “Because the demand was low, the pricing for the subcontractors came in lower.”
In addition to bigger rooms, the new construction includes a new lobby and entrance, a new women’s center with expanded labor, delivery and nursery facilities on the fourth floor and a four-level parking garage.
A new ICU is part of the plan for the renovated wings.

North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo
Project: West Bed Tower Expansion
Cost: $55 million
Status: Preparing to let construction bids
Expected completion: Expansion: 2012; renovations: 2014

After seven years of planning and hundreds of meetings with hospital staff, physicians and community groups, North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo is nearly ready to start construction on its West Bed Tower expansion, which will replace patient rooms that date to the 1960s.
“We’re preparing the last documents on the project,” said Bruce Ridgway, North Mississippi Health Services vice president for facilities management. “We anticipate releasing the project for bids in August or early September.”
All of the planning has resulted in rooms that are more like a parallelogram than a rectangle, with the bed on a slanted wall so the patient can see farther out the window. The aim is to have more room for caregivers and for patients’ families.
“Our goal is to get this design as flexible as it can be, so it can be used for 100 years,” Ridgway said.
When the entire $55 million expansion and renovation project is completed, the hospital will have replaced or renovated 250 of the 500 rooms in its main unit.
“It’s a huge expense, and we’ve got to make sure we get it right,” Ridgway said.
The project will be paid for with money set aside annually by the private, not-for-profit health care system for capital improvements and financing, Ridgway said.
In the first phase of construction, a new building will rise parallel to South Gloster Street and will take about two years to build.
The renovation of the current west wing, where the patient rooms lack private showers, will be done in two phases, each requiring about a year.
The rooms will have little touches to make them more comfortable for patients and their families. Instead of one chair for visitors, the room will have space for three, Ridgway said.
Nurses will be able to observe the patient through an angled window without entering the room. Housekeeping will be able to stock materials without entering the room.
Patients will be able to access controls for the window blinds, TV, temperature and lights from the bedside.
“That’s a first for us,” Ridgway said.
When construction begins, the admissions parking lot on the west side of the parking lot will close. Both admission and discharge will flow through the hospital’s main lobby.
The hospital is losing 140 parking spaces with the project, leaving 2,300, Ridgway said. Space will be rented for the construction workers on Crossover Road.

Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi
Project: Replacing existing hospital
Cost: Estimated $302 million
Status: In negotiation with Oxford, Lafayette County boards on lease buyout
Expected completion: Five years or more

Replacing Oxford’s hospital is an expensive undertaking and will cost an estimated $302 million. However, not building a new facility would squeeze future growth for the regional medical center, hospital leaders say.
“It will ensure quality health care for generations to come,” said chief executive Hutson. “That’s what it’s really about.”
The hospital is nearly landlocked on a 12.5-acre site, the smallest regional hospital campus in the Baptist system. Space is needed to accommodate future population growth in Oxford and the surrounding areas as well as a changing health care landscape.
“The Center for Health Planning estimates the Oxford hospital could grow 25 to 35 percent in the next 10 to 15 years,” said Hutson. “Right now, medical knowledge is doubling about every five years. By 2020, they estimate it will double every 73 days. You can’t predict, you can only respond and be flexible.”
Preliminary plans call for a state-of-the-art facility with larger patient rooms, energy efficient design, enhancements to surgery, emergency department, intensive care and outpatient services.
“We’re very early in the process,” Hutson said. However, the hospital is considering a very aggressive construction timetable. “We’re committed to making this happen. … If all the things line up, we could be occupying a new hospital in five years.”
The private, not-for-profit system has leased the publicly owned hospital building from the city of Oxford and Lafayette County since 1989. The first step in the process to negotiate a lease buy out with the public boards.
“The hospital has made its official proposal to city-county boards. They are currently doing their due diligence,” Hutson said.
In addition to settling the lease contract, the negotiations also will decide who will own the current hospital building and the land, Hutson said. In either case, Baptist will transfer money to the city and county.
“The city and county will not be paying for the new hospital,” Hutson said. “Baptist will be financing the cost, not the taxpayer.”
After the lease buyout is finalized, the hospital will purchase a site and proceed with design planning and state certificate of need processes, Hutson said.
Multiple sites are under consideration including state Highway 7 south, land adjacent to the Oxford Convention Center, the proposed University research park site and landowners are continuing to propose new sites to the hospital.
Regardless of where the new hospital is located, the Baptist Memorial Centers for Cancer Care will remain on Azalea Drive, south of the current hospital.
Despite the expense of building a new hospital and the current questions about how health care reform will affect hospitals.
“You have to position yourself to be flexible, no matter what the changes are,” Hutson said. “There’s no doubt health care reform will reshape how health care is delivered. This is Baptist’s commitment to providing health care.”

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio