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Med center: Growing for the future

Projects will give medical center much-needed space

POSTED: September 28, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

The exterior of the new North Patient Tower at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center is nearing completion with the final months of work being used to complete the interior.

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Drive around Northeast Georgia Medical Center these days, and you can't help but notice that the landscape is changing.

Exterior work is basically finished on two major construction projects, the Women & Children's Pavilion and the North Patient Tower. And down the road, a new three-story addition looms over the Imaging Center.

But there's still plenty of work that needs to be done. And with only three months left until the $50 million Women & Children's Pavilion is set to open, the clock is ticking.

"They're installing nonmovable equipment (such as lighting) right now," said Tracy Vardeman, vice president of strategic planning for Northeast Georgia Health System.

Officials hope to have beds, furnishings and medical equipment moved into the pavilion by Oct. 22, and a public open house is planned for Nov. 2.

Located west of the hospital's main entrance, the addition is expected to alleviate crowding in the hospital's obstetrics department, which delivers about 4,000 babies a year.

"It will have 18 labor-and-delivery rooms," said Vardeman. "That's just a couple more than we have now. But we will also have eight antepartum rooms."

Antepartum means "before birth." These rooms will be used for patients with high-risk pregnancies who need to be under medical observation but are not yet in active labor. Vardeman said because the hospital currently doesn't have antepartum rooms, some of the labor-and-delivery rooms have to be used for that purpose.

The pavilion will also have four rooms for patients undergoing caesarean sections, compared to two now.

New NICU triples the floor space

But hospital officials are especially excited about the new neonatal intensive care unit, which will have three times the square footage of the current unit. In the existing NICU, there's very little space for visiting family members, and no partitions between patient beds.

"The new NICU will give parents more privacy. That's a huge plus," said medical center spokeswoman Cathy Bowers.

Each NICU patient will have a separate room, and every room has a window.

In fact, every patient room in both the Women & Children's Pavilion and the North Patient Tower has its own large window, and many have spectacular views. The architects managed to do this by arranging all the patient rooms along the outside of the buildings and putting the work areas, such as nurse's stations and supply storage, in the middle.

Visitors will enter the pavilion via a corridor directly to the left of the main entrance. They'll walk through a lobby that features a children's play area to the left, a "serenity garden" to the right, and a "water wall" in the middle near the elevators.

On that same floor are the labor-and-delivery rooms, designed to be spacious and comfortable. For example, each bathroom has a tub instead of just a shower stall, because sometimes getting into a warm bath can help to ease labor pains.

Below the obstetrics department, the entire ground floor is occupied by the NICU. It includes eight beds for critically ill newborns, 18 intermediate rooms for babies who aren't quite as sick and two transitional rooms where parents can spend the night with the baby before taking him home for the first time.

North Patient Tower has innovative design

Rudy Lonergan, director of facilities development for the medical center, said the design of the pavilion was somewhat constrained by the fact that the addition had to be contiguous with the hospital's existing west wing.

But with the $190 million North Patient Tower, architects were able to start from scratch and put more creativity into the design. Ceilings in the tower, for example, are noticeably higher than in the current hospital.

Visitors will enter the tower from a 738-space parking garage off South Enota Avenue. They'll walk into an enormous, three-story-high rotunda lit by a domed skylight window and lined with stone.

There will be a staffed information desk, but also a self-service kiosk from which visitors can print out directions. As they walk down the terrazzo-floored hallway to the left, they'll pass administrative offices, admissions, pre-admissions testing, and other departments where quick access is important.

"Hopefully, this is laid out more intuitively than the other building," said Lonergan.

Continuing down the concourse, people can visit the food court, which Lonergan said will include a cafeteria, a full-service Chick-Fil-A restaurant, and possibly a Starbucks.

After passing a gift shop, visitors will reach a second rotunda. This is the hospital's new chapel, where sunlight will stream through decorated windows and another "waterfall" is intended to soothe people's nerves during times of stress.

Just behind the chapel is the library and resource center, where both doctors and visitors will be able to research medical topics. It will also have a children's area.

The chapel and the library, Lonergan said, are extras that were made possible by generous gifts from donors.

New ORs will expand surgical capabilities

The rest of the first floor is occupied by the endoscopy and inpatient radiology departments.

The entire second floor is devoted to surgery, and will replace the hospital's existing Surgery Pavilion. There are 23 operating rooms, including three that are suitable for heart surgery.

Some of the rooms have more than 700 square feet of floor space, which Lonergan said is much larger than the hospital's current surgical suites.

Vardeman said all the rooms will be "cross-functional across different specialties. The ORs we have now can't be used for all cases."

The new surgery department will allow the hospital to begin using a robotic surgery system for certain procedures. It also could enable the Ronnie Green Heart Center to double its bed capacity, according to Vardeman.

The third floor of the tower is for intensive care. Just as with the NICU, the adult ICU rooms are large and have windows, as well as convertible sofa beds for family members. The rooms are designed to minimize intrusive light and noise, so patients can get more rest.

Noncritical patients will be housed in the upper floors of the tower. Orthopedic and neurological surgery patients will stay on the fourth floor, other postsurgical patients on the fifth and sixth.

Workers have finished painting the interior walls of the Tower, and they're currently adding flooring and ceiling tiles. Officials are hoping they'll be able to move patients into the tower by late April or early May.

Lonergan said once the North Patient Tower is opened, the existing main hospital will be used for general medical patients, those who are being treated for non-surgical conditions.

Expansion continues beyond main campus

As if there's not enough going on at the main campus, from the upper levels of the North Patient Tower you can see yet another construction project: the new outpatient imaging center.

If you've driven down Jesse Jewell Parkway past the Guilford Clinics, you can't miss the three-story building going up next to the existing Imaging Center. Lonergan said the $15 million project is on schedule to be finished in March.

Once it opens, almost all outpatient radiology will be done at that location rather than at the hospital. But only the ground floor will be used for imaging; the top two floors will be leased out for doctor's offices.

Lonergan said having so many construction projects under way simultaneously will help Northeast Georgia Health System handle an even bigger challenge: Within five years, a completely new hospital will be built on the system's 119-acre South Hall campus, off Thompson Mill Road in Braselton.

The hospital itself hasn't been designed yet. But a portion of the property will soon be in use. The health system is opening an Urgent Care walk-in clinic on that site in September. In October, the Braselton Clinic will relocate to the same medical office building that houses Urgent Care, and a number of Gainesville specialty physicians will eventually have satellite offices in the facility.

Lonergan thinks developing the South Campus won't be as difficult as it might have been, because of all the experience hospital officials have gained over the past few years.

"We have learned so much through this, sometimes through trial and error," he said.



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