Cathie Anderson: Hospital wing debuts Saturday

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 11, 2012 - 7:57 am

The $70 million south wing of Marshall Medical Center in Placerville won't officially open for business for four to six weeks, but this Saturday, you can be among the first to see its new birthing center and emergency room.

After four years of construction and many more years of planning, chief executive James Whipple said, the two units now can offer patients greater privacy and units designed around their needs.

He paints a picture of the current situation in the ER: "Let's see, it's 11 o'clock in the morning, and I would bet that … we probably have patients in hallways because we only have 12 beds. Daily, we're having to overflow out into gurneys."

The new emergency department and its nearby lobby have more than three times the space of the current ER. The number of beds increases to 26. Admissions will now occur in a private booth.

Because accidents regularly involve multiple family members, trauma rooms allow them to have beds in a shared space.

New parents have had little privacy in the shared rooms of the 1950s-era obstetrics unit. The new birthing center offers private birthing rooms with a couch where the significant other can camp out.

The lobby and new units cost more than the original $63 million estimate.

"We got hit by two trends that really hurt us," Whipple said. "… About four years ago, five years ago, you had China and India taking all the drywall and copper and everything, so our key components of construction from steel to copper to concrete were just skyrocketing, so that went up."

Then came the economic slowdown, Whipple said. Many patients lost their jobs and insurance coverage, leaving them with no means to pay, he said, and state furloughs meant there were fewer inspectors to come out and sign off on the construction processes.

One tricky element of building a hospital is the heating and ventilation system. It must sequester airborne germs and filter air entering the building.

"Being up here in the mountains where you still have people heating their houses with wood, we have a fair amount of smoke in the winter," Whipple said. "We have special chambers … to get the smoke out of the air and then we take it through the charcoal filter."

Half of the new south wing remains empty but will be filled with an intensive care unit, cafeteria and medical surgical department as funds become available, said Whipple. He estimates the next phase will likely cost an additional $30 million to $40 million – and intends to seek state approval of the ICU plans this month.

The space that currently houses the emergency and obstetrics departments won't remain empty for long. Cardiac services, diagnostic imaging and 23-hour patient observations will take up most of the space.

The south wing's $70 million price tag is being paid by a combination of sources.

The lion's share comes from bonds and capital reserves. Community donations and fundraising brought in roughly $3 million, Whipple said, and half of Marshall's 1,500 employees donated about $750,000.

Employees will celebrate the new wing Thursday. The public is welcome from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Marshall, 1100 Marshall Way. Teddy bears and dolls can get checkups, adults can "test-drive" the new Da Vinci Surgical Robot System and everyone can play carnival games.

There's a strong lobby for Whipple to wear a tuxedo. Show up Saturday to see if it succeeded.

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