Mercy hospital plans to add 18-story patient tower to downtown campus


Mercy Medical Center, which opened a new outpatient center two years ago as part of a $110 million expansion, said yesterday that it would take another major step in reshaping its downtown campus, with a $292 million construction program featuring an 18-story patient tower.

The new building would replace operating rooms and the 228 medical and surgical beds in the hospital's current main tower, which opened in 1963. All the rooms in the new building would be private, replacing many semiprivate rooms in the old tower.

"We have a great hospital, but it's getting old," said Thomas R. Mullen, the hospital's president and chief executive officer.

"Health care now is more technology-driven, and way more amenity-driven, than it was in 1960," said Peg Benziger, Mercy's vice president for business development.

The new tower is to be built on the site of a current Mercy garage, between St. Paul Place and Calvert Street and across Pleasant Street from the current main building.

The project would include parking to replace the demolished garage.

Mullen said the new building, expected to be completed in 2010, would "anchor our services in downtown Baltimore for years to come."

Mercy's plans come as hospitals nationally and in Maryland are building feverishly.

This month, St. Agnes Hospital in Southwest Baltimore announced a $160 million expansion and renovation program, and state health planners approved a $210 million project at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis and a $124 million project at Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie.

Earlier this year, state regulators approved replacement hospital projects for $323 million in Cumberland and $235 million in Hagerstown.

In most cases, the projects aim to replace facilities built in the 1950s and 1960s, when rapid suburban growth and federal aid also fueled a hospital building boom.

The current round of expansions share an emphasis on private rooms, which are better for infection control and more in line with consumer preferences.

The hospitals are also getting larger, allowing for more equipment and for more patients' family members to participate in care -- and to accommodate increasing numbers of patients.

At Johns Hopkins, for example, planned patient towers will be about 50 percent larger than the buildings they will replace. Nationally, hospitals now plan for 2,000 to 2,500 square feet per bed -- up from 1,000 square feet in past years, according to the American Institute of Architects.

Mercy's plans must be approved by the Maryland Health Care Commission. The hospital submitted its application Friday. Construction would begin in 2007.

Mullen said Mercy will pay for the new project with a combination of bonds and philanthropy, and it will not seek a rate increase to pay for it. Details of the fundraising campaign -- which would follow a $40 million campaign a few years ago for the outpatient center -- are not yet determined, Mullen said.

He said the hospital had been discussing plans for about a year and a half, as it considered how to update its aging facility and handle a growing patient load. For the most recent fiscal year, he said, the number of patients was about 5 percent higher than the previous year.

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