GBMC to grow, add to services

$42 million project includes new building

Completion in spring 2004

Hospitals are reversing long downsizing trend

February 13, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

The Greater Baltimore Medical Center plans to announce today a $42 million expansion and renovation project that will add new emergency services as well as other specialty services.

To house the new services, the Towson facility will add a three-story building to its campus as well as renovate existing space. The project is to be completed in the spring of 2004.

The project will be financed by revenue bonds and private dollars raised during a capital campaign that began last year. So far, $26 million of the $30 million goal has been raised under the campaign, which is to commemorate the hospital's 40th anniversary at its North Charles Street site in 2005.

"As more people choose GBMC for health care, and we expect the growth to continue, we have developed a plan to serve the community's needs," said Lawrence M. Merlis, president and chief executive of GBMC.

New and expanded facilities will include an emergency department for adults, emergency department for children, inpatient unit for children, intensive-care unit, four more surgical suites, a comprehensive breast care center, a medical library and community resource center, and renovated postpartum units.

GBMC officials said the hospital needs to grow to accommodate patients and doctors, as well as to compete with other area hospitals, a number of which also have undertaken expansion programs.

GBMC said its emergency room saw nearly 53,000 people last year, up 37 percent from three years ago.

The hospital serves 22,000 inpatients and 176,000 outpatients annually.

Service and growth have again become issues for the hospital industry after 20 years of downsizing, said Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management. "Now we're sort of bottoming out, and a number of hospitals are starting to expand, mostly in urban areas," he said. "Rural areas still have a lot of excess space."

There was excess capacity in Maryland's and the nation's hospitals in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as a result of the growth in outpatient facilities, Anderson said. Hospitals were left with the most serious cases, he said, and more patients began traveling to urban centers for care.

The increase in seriously ill patients has led to a recent scramble to grow and to add sophisticated technology.

Those additions are expensive, so there is also a push to use the new equipment as often as possible, "10, 12, 16 hours a day. You need to be big and you need to be busy," Anderson said.

The Maryland Health Care Commission, which reviews hospital expansion plans, said GBMC and at least four other hospitals have notified the agency of their plans since 2001. They are in Montgomery, Carroll and Frederick counties and are in various stages of development. Sheppard Pratt Health System also recently requested permission to expand, according to Pam Barclay, deputy director for health resources.

Howard County General Hospital finished construction recently, and a $110 million expansion at Mercy Medical Center is under way.

Permission from the commission is necessary if the hospital also wants to raise rates, which GBMC requested, Barclay said. GBMC's expansion plans are not the largest, she noted.

"There are a number of hospitals that are developing plans for large capital renovations projects as well as some expansions of space," she said. "Specifically, they are renovating patient care areas, such as upgrading semiprivate rooms to private rooms, and there are emergency department expansions."

Maryland has 47 acute-care hospitals.

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