NMMC details $55M construction project

TUPELO – North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo announced plans Thursday for a $55 million project that will build a new five-story patient bed tower and replace or upgrade 250 of the hospital’s patient rooms.
“Half the beds in the main unit will be replaced,” said Bruce Ridgway, NMMC vice president for facilities.
The new patient tower will run parallel to South Gloster Street, where parking lots are currently located. The west wing will be renovated, primarily using the same design as rooms in the new wing.
This project will not add to the 500-bed capacity of the main hospital, but it will provide renovations for the 45-year-old rooms.
The project has been on the drawing board for nearly a decade. Hospital leaders have consulted patients, families, hospital employees, physicians and community members as they created the plan.
North Mississippi Health Services chief executive John Heer estimated they’ve talked with about 1,000 people in 140 different meetings.
“I’ve never been involved in a project with this much public feedback,” Heer said. The last major project was the women’s hospital which was completed earlier this year.
The hospital board approved the project in November, and the process of applying for a certificate of need through the Mississippi State Department of Health already has begun.
Work will likely begin in the late spring or summer. The new tower should be complete in 20 to 24 months, Ridgway said. The renovation of the old west wing will be done in two phases, each taking about a year.
At its peak, the project will employ about 300 construction workers, Heer said.
It will be paid for with a combination of bonds and money the hospital puts away annually for capital projects, Heer said. No increase in patient charges is expected; the cost of the project will add less than 1 percent to the cost of providing care.
“If you have the financial capacity,” Heer said, “right now is the time to build.”
The North Mississippi Health Services system is among the 40 percent of U.S. hospitals that finished FY09 in the black.
The current rooms in the west and east patient wings date back almost half a century. They are small, and many have no private shower, Ridgway said.
The new rooms will grow to give patients, caregivers and families about 100 more square feet of elbow room.
Instead of being boxes, the new rooms with be slanted like a parallelogram, Ridgway said. The design is based on needs identified by patients, families and caregivers, but also mirrors new construction by many other hospitals around the country.
“We think the design will carry us for the next 50 years,” said Steve Altmiller, president of NMMC-Tupelo.
Patients will get a handicap-accessible bathroom and a wider view out the window, Ridgeway said.
Families and visitors, who are limited to one cramped chair in current rooms, will gain three chairs, including a recliner that can be expanded into a bed.
Nurses and physicians will gain extra space and technology in the room and just outside.
The slanted design leaves room for an alcove workspace just outside the room that will let nurses and physicians observe the patient as they work.
The outside alcove also has a nurse server so housekeepers remove trash and deliver linens and other housekeeping items without disturbing the patient.
The expansion and renovation have been in the planning stage for a decade. Some delays were caused by costs or tough financial years for the hospital.
But the extra time allowed hospital leaders to get more feedback and consider new technologies.
“We wanted to make it right, not fast,” Heer said.

Michael Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal