Dr. Al Glaess (left) and W.T. Allison II (second from left) listen as Tim Kelty speaks during the grounbreaking ceremony for the expansion and renovation of the hospital Tuesday. Kelty said the work is the biggest project ever undertaken by a single business or organization group in Hopkins County.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

The start of something big

Hopkins County Memorial Hospital breaks ground on a $36.5 million renovation project, signaling the dawning of a new era in health care locally and

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

May 7, 2008 - A report released this week found that emergency centers in seven major U.S. cities lack the ability to cope with even minor national emergencies.

That shouldn't be a problem in Sulphur Springs.

By this time next year, Hopkins County Memorial Hospital will have a state-of-the art emergency department some four times bigger than the existing ER, and be well on its way to completing renovations and new construction covering about 1.5 acres of floor space.

Turning the first shovels of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony were, left to right, Dr. I.L. Balkcom IV, board member; Dr. Al Glaess, past board member; Tommy Allison, past board member; William Zahn, board member; Michael McAndrew, CEO; Joe Bob Burgin, board member; Donna Geiken Wallace, CFO; Terri Bunch, CNO; Vaden Richey, past board member; G.V. Hughes, past board member; Tim Kelty, board president; Dawn Sheffield, past board member; Ralph Pruess, board member; Chad Young, board member; Judy Gilreath, wife of past board member Charles Gilreath; and Ms. Wayne Tittle, wife of past board member.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

More than 100 people crowded onto a grassy knoll behind the current emergency room entrance for the groundbreaking of the ambitious undertaking, a multi-phase project that promises intense upgrades to the level of care that will be offered at the local medical center.

"This is really just the beginning of a project that will mean doctors, new specialists and a lot of new services that have never been offered before," said Tim Kelty, a member of the board of directors at Hopkins County Memorial Hospital. "This would not have been possible without the vision of our doctors, nurses, staff and administrators, and past and present board of directors."

Kelty said the project will cover some 63,000 square feet in total. The cost is estimated at $36.5 million. It is the largest project ever undertaken in Hopkins County by any single business or organization, Kelty added.

The plans call for a new emergency department and patient tower, a renovated and enlarged lobby and waiting areas, new and updated infrastructure components, and many other upgrades.

"I think people are going to be really happy and excited about what we are doing," said HCMH board member Joe Bob Burgin. "We will be able to provide medical services we haven't had the capability to offer before."

The first phase of the work is the construction of a new emergency department. The emergency center would expand from approximately 3,600 square feet to more than 14,000 square feet, effectively quadrupling the size of the trauma center. Just as important will be the capability of handling more patients, with projected annual visits to the department rising from 15,675 to 18,082.

Michael McAndrew, the hospital's chief executive officer, said the expansion will address a misconception about solutions to long wait times for treatment in the emergency department.

"When people have a long wait in the emergency room, they say, "The hospital needs to add more doctors and nurses,'" McAndrew said.

But if there aren't enough rooms to treat patients, adding more staff is moot. Increasing the number of rooms -- from the current eight to more than 20 -- will address that problem, while allowing the number of emergency room staff to almost double, from 13 to 22.

The overall construction project also includes new construction of a patient tower with all private rooms. Eventually, the hospital will have single-patient rooms only.

The decision to take on such extensive improvements came after a long, hard look at the 40-year-old facility's physical well-being.

The current emergency department was built to accomodate 8,000 visits per year but reached nearly 16,000 last year. Longer wait times also meant an increase in patient dissatisfaction.

But during planning for a new emergency section, it became clear that there were other issues facing the 40-year-old hospital building.

A facility master plan identified significant work that needed to be done on the building, including replacement of worn out mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems that either weren't functioning well, not energy efficient or had reached the end of their useful life.

The board and administrators explored building an entirely new facility, but the cost estimates made that option "prohibitively expensive," McAndrew said -- in excess of $100 million.

Upgrades to the infrastructure -- such as a new roof, cooling towers and other heating and air conditioning equipment -- will help the hospital save some money and be a little more "green," but combined with the other work will help reach another long-term goal.

Taking into account the relatively new Women's Pavilion, intensive care unit and operating theater, the net effect of the future project will essentially be a new facility that should serve the community well for years to come," HCMH leaders stated in a press release.

"It will help lower energy costs, but more importantly it is going to give us a building that is going to be around for another 30 to 40 years," McAndrew said.

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