Medical Construction on Upswing in Rankin County

Fri January 23, 2009 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Ayres



BRANDON, Miss. (AP) At a time when even the normally steady medical industry is feeling the effects of the nationwide economic downturn, Rankin County is rife with medical-related construction projects.

River Oaks Hospital is expanding its main campus, and more amenities are coming to Crossgates River Oaks Hospital in Brandon. Jackson Healthcare for Women P.A. is consolidating its operations into a new building under construction in Flowood. A neurospine center has opened in that city, as well.

It’s not hard to figure the importance of the medical profession to Hinds County’s economy, with the Jackson area home to many major hospitals and several smaller clinics.

The profession figures just as significantly in Rankin County’s economic health. River Oaks Healthcare, the hospital’s parent company, is one of the county’s largest employers.

“The medical (industry) is the lifesaver, so to speak,’’ said Gale Martin, executive director of the Rankin County Chamber of Commerce. “With the population that’s coming out here…for a while, there was a void in those areas. Now, those voids are being filled.’’

River Oaks plans to add 81 beds to its Flowood campus as part of a roughly 145,000-sq.-ft. (13,471 sq. m) expansion that will bring its total number of beds to 191. Hospital officials describe the $47 million project as the largest expansion of the facility since it opened in 1980. It’s scheduled to open in August.

With Rankin County’s growth, open beds at the hospital have become increasingly scarce. Hospital officials began planning the expansion earlier this decade, and River Oaks three years ago obtained state Department of Health approval for the project through a certificate of need.

The state issues those certificates to hospitals when they can show continually high-occupancy rates.

“The hospital is trying to keep up with the growth of the community and, from time to time, we wouldn’t have enough beds,’’ said Dennis Bruns, River Oaks Hospital’s CEO.

He said the call for more beds came first from doctors who weren’t shy about letting hospital administrators know they were having a hard time finding beds for their patients.

Construction crews are building a four-story addition to the existing hospital that will further River Oaks’ obstetrical, neonatal and general medical and surgical services.

The first floor will feature admissions and outpatient surgery, as well as waiting areas and a lounge and covered parking for doctors. A 15-bed neonatal intensive care unit will go on the second floor, and 16 postpartum rooms and 16 nursery beds will be located on the third floor. Seventeen general medical/surgical beds will go on the fourth floor. Patients on the higher floors will see a garden from their windows. The greenery will be placed on a portion of the roof.

Jackie McGowan, the hospital’s vice president of facilities management and planning, says that touch will give patients as they recover “something better to look at than that grey roof and roof drains.’’ The expansion should add not only more beds to the hospital but more employees.

Bruns said the expansion could create at least 60 new doctor and staff jobs, welcome news, he said, on the heels of parent company River Oaks Healthcare putting an undisclosed number of employees on leave and announcing a hiring freeze as the economy takes its toll.

Jackson Healthcare for Women is building its facility to house 15 obstetrics/gynecology and maternal medicine physicians and 75 staff now spread out among four locations, three in Flowood and one at St. Dominic Health Services’ complex in downtown Jackson.

It broke ground last July and expects to open the facility sometime in summer 2009.

Bill Brown, Jackson Healthcare’s administrator, says the consolidation is designed to boost patient convenience by providing all its services in one place and to eliminate duplication of services among its four current locations.

He couldn’t say if the economy influenced the consolidation, explaining the decision to do so was made before he joined the company. Brown wouldn’t say how much the project costs.

River Oaks’ expansion may not end with the current project.

After the $47 million price tag was settled on, costs for construction materials like copper escalated rapidly, and Bruns said more beds might be needed in the future to balance those extra costs.

Room is available on the hospital’s main campus, he said, and not having to scour the rest of Rankin County for land saved the hospital at least several million dollars.

“That all goes back to good planning,’’ Bruns said.

Crossgates River Oaks Hospital added a $1.3 million imaging facility. It will replace a mobile MRI unit outside the hospital’s emergency room.

Hospital officials say the imaging technology housed in the new facility will help capture stronger medical images more quickly. It also will feature larger dressing and waiting rooms.