Hospital ready to expand

Howard County General to start patient tower in the fall


Howard County General Hospital is scheduled to begin construction this fall on an $85 million project that will add a four-story patient tower and a 660-space parking garage in what will be its biggest expansion - in size and budget - to date.

The face-lift will give almost every patient a private room, hospital officials said this week. It also will include major renovation in the Columbia hospital's existing space and will push capacity to 228 inpatient beds from 186, easing emergency room crowding and preparing the medical center for a surge in aging baby boomers.

"We've reached our clinical capacity," Victor A. Broccolino, president of the hospital, said at Monday's unveiling of the plan's details. "On the inpatient side, we are on a real crunch. There are some services that are really crowded."

In the past 10 years, admissions at the hospital have grown 13 percent, to about 14,000 admitted between July 2005 and June 2006.

The hospital has undergone five major additions since opening in 1973. The new tower, to be completed in 2009, will add about 110,000 square feet, and the renovation, slated to be finished in 2010, will change about 123,000 square feet of the hospital's existing space.

Almost all inpatient beds - aside from 20 beds in the psychiatric unit - will be in private rooms to increase hospital efficiency and reduce the possibility of errors.

Officials said the expansion would add 110 clinical and nonclinical jobs.

The project is in line with a nationwide boom of hospital construction that places a premium on space, said Pam Barclay, director of the Center for Hospital Services of the Maryland Health Care Commission.

"There's evidence in medical literature that private rooms are good for patient safety, so there's some good patient-care reasons to support private rooms," Barclay said. "There are reasons for efficiency purposes. When you have semiprivate rooms, you have to make sure there is gender matching, and it's a little harder to use all your beds."

Barclay said other hospitals in the state plan expansions to create private rooms. Johns Hopkins Hospital will spend $800 million adding two new patient towers. Anne Arundel Medical Center will undergo an expansion costing about $207 million, and Baltimore Washington Medical Center is planning a similar expansion that will cost $125 million.

In January, the Center for Hospital Services of the Maryland Healthcare Commission cleared Howard County General Hospital's expansion and in May approved an increase in the plan's budget of $72.8 million.

Howard County has pledged $3 million for the Columbia project, the Rouse Company Foundation has pledged $2 million and Columbia-based W.R. Grace & Co. has promised $500,000, Broccolino said. The hospital's owner, Johns Hopkins Medicine, will back the project with $40 million in tax-free bonds, and operating revenue will cover $25 million.

The hospital has yet to raise about $13 million in community donations.

In addition to the renovations converting shared rooms to private ones, 90 new private rooms will be built in the tower with a standard design to prevent patient falls, with stall-less showers and handrails running from bed to bathroom.

More room will allow places for equipment, make overnight visitors more comfortable, prevent spread of infection and decrease the possibility of medical mistakes, officials say.

A floor will be dedicated to critical care, and two of the hospital's seven operating rooms will be expanded for orthopedic, vascular and general surgery. Outpatient services, which are now scattered about the hospital, will be centralized near the main lobby of the new tower for improved accessibility. Services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, speech-language pathology, and diabetes management will be clustered.

"Today, when patients go in for outpatient services, we frequently find them getting lost," said Paul Gleichauf, the hospital's senior vice president for planning, marketing and managed care. "These services will be easier to find."

Nancy McCord, a member of the Hickory Ridge Village Board, said that although construction trailers have been an eyesore during hospital expansion in the past, a bigger concern is a consistency of exterior design between old and new buildings at the medical center.

Howard County General announced this month a 2,200- square-foot, $775,000 project to add a 10-bed mental health unit to its emergency room that is scheduled to be completed next year.

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