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What does it take to move a hospital?

This month, NGMC opens the new North Patient Tower

POSTED: April 12, 2009 12:30 a.m.
Sara Guevara/The Times

Brian Allison, right, and Buddy Walker resurface countertops with new laminate Tuesday in a construction zone inside the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

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It's like the biggest game of musical chairs anyone has ever seen.

This month, Northeast Georgia Medical Center is transferring all of its Lanier Park hospital patients to the main campus, while simultaneously opening a massive new hospital building, the $180 million North Patient Tower.

Some areas of the "old" main hospital, now referred to as the South Tower, are being vacated and renovated to make room for the Lanier Park patients, and all of the surgical patients from both campuses are being moved into the North Tower.

"We're consolidating one hospital facility into another, while at the same time opening a brand-new facility," said Dane Henry, vice president of support services for Northeast Georgia Health System. "It's like putting a three-dimensional puzzle together."

Hospital officials have compared the move to a military operation, demanding a high level of strategy and preparation. "We started the formal planning for this 15 to 18 months ago," said Henry.

They need to get every detail right, because they're not just moving furniture around. How do you uproot dozens, if not hundreds, of fragile patients who need around-the-clock care? How do you make sure each one gets to their new room safely and without disruption?

You plan and plan, then plan some more.

"We've worked with all the support services - dietary, respiratory, pharmacy, environmental services, infection control, admissions," said Henry. "On each unit, we know what order we're going to move patients. Each will be moved starting at either 8 a.m. or 1 p.m., to avoid mealtimes.

"We'll make sure everything goes with the patient: chart, belongings, family, medications. A staff person will accompany each patient through the process. There will be no hand-offs (to a different employee)."

Ambulances from the hospital's medical transport service will move patients from Lanier Park in phases, gradually emptying six intensive-care rooms, about 40 surgical beds and another 40 medical beds.

Most of the moves will take place during the third and fourth weeks of April.

"We can staff about five life-support-capable ambulances at a time," said Henry. "We'll also have a moving company to move hospital beds and surgical equipment."
For moving expensive imaging machines such as CT scanners, the hospital will receive assistance from the equipment vendors.

"We have to have the imaging in place before we can do surgery (in the North Patient Tower)," said Henry. "And the FDA has to re-certify each piece of equipment after it is moved."

The health system's "I.T. guys" will be busy as well. "Even though we bought new computers for the North Patient Tower, we still will have to move hundreds of PCs from Lanier Park," Henry said.

The surgical departments will be moved April 24 and 25.

"Lanier Park's seven operating rooms will move first, then the 16 here (on the main campus)," said Henry. "We'll keep two standard ORs and one cardiovascular open during the move, to handle any surgical emergencies."

Lanier Park's emergency department will stay open through April 28, closing at midnight. The main campus ER is being expanded so it can handle the additional volume from Lanier Park.

By the end of this month, Lanier Park will no longer offer any acute-care services. Eventually, its hospital rooms will be converted to a nursing home and rehabilitation center.

But Jolinda Martin, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at the medical center, said there's no hurry to start the renovation.

"We're going to be focusing on acute care for the immediate future," she said.

Martin is one of many hospital officials coordinating the move-in process. But she also helped design the nursing units in the North Patient Tower.

"We looked at some of the roadblocks we were experiencing in our existing (hospital) space," she said. "Every step a nurse takes away from a patient is a waste of time. So we decentralized the nursing stations and moved the supply areas closer to the patient rooms."

Martin has already gotten a glimpse of how efficiently the new layout works. On April 1, the main hospital's 1 West floor, also known as the "ortho-neuro" unit, was moved into the North Patient Tower so its former space could be renovated.

"(The move) went very well," Martin said. "We started at 8 a.m. and by 9:30, about 30 patients were in their new rooms. By noon, everyone was clicking on all cylinders. We had spent so much time preparing for the move, orienting staff to the new space, doing drills."

Martin said both the patients and employees quickly fell in love with their new surroundings.

"One staff nurse stopped me a few days later and said, ‘Thank you for creating such a great place to work.' And the patients have been raving about the large windows and even the artwork on the walls. They say it's so pretty, they just feel better being there."

The North Patient Tower is currently closed to everyone except the former 1 West patients and their families. But on April 19, the public will have their first opportunity to see inside the new hospital. From 2 to 5 p.m., there will be an open house featuring tours, kids' activities, refreshments, demonstrations, a blessing of the chapel and more.

The first 500 families to visit the new Love Light Garden will get a free tree seedling.

And for the first time, visitors will enter the hospital via a new road off Downey Boulevard. Labeled North Entrance 3, this route leads to the new 738-space parking deck in front of the North Patient Tower.

"The staff and volunteers have been educated on the new layout of the campus," said Henry. "There are signs going up all over the place, and we'll have plenty of maps available.

"We're so looking forward to being able to show it off to the public."




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