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St. Francis Hospital Expansion Just What the Doctor Ordered

Thu February 23, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Lori Lovely


Two years after acquiring state approval, St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Ga., broke ground on its $115 million expansion in October 2011, the largest in its 60-year history.
Two years after acquiring state approval, St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Ga., broke ground on its $115 million expansion in October 2011, the largest in its 60-year history.
Two years after acquiring state approval, St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Ga., broke ground on its $115 million expansion in October 2011, the largest in its 60-year history. Skanska USA will complete the new construction and renovation of the main hospital by August 2013.

Two years after acquiring state approval, St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Ga., broke ground on its $115 million expansion in October 2011, the largest in its 60-year history. Robert Granger, St. Francis president and CEO, told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer that the time was spent “working through getting the financing arranged and the final construction plans drawn.” The hefty price tag covers the cost of construction and installation of medical and office equipment.

Skanska USA will complete the new construction and renovation of the main hospital by August 2013. Skanska USA, based in New York, consists of several divisions. Skanska USA Building specializes in building construction, but other divisions are involved with civil infrastructure partnerships and developing public-private partnerships as well as commercial development projects in select U.S. markets.

The contractor took out a building permit on Aug. 23 from the city of Columbus for the first portion of construction (the four-story clinical services tower on the back side of the main hospital), expected to cost nearly $37 million. A permit for the five-story, medical office building was taken out a few weeks later.

Blueprint for Healthcare

The expansion includes a four-story 188,368-sq. ft. (17,500 sq m) clinical services building and a five-story, 166,840-sq. ft. (15,500 sq m) medical office building. The addition of more than 375,000 sq. ft. (34,838 sq m) to the hospital’s main campus will give St. Francis just under 1 million sq. ft. (92,903 sq m) of space on its 35-acre medical complex at the corner of Manchester Expressway and Woodruff Road. Its medical facilities currently comprise about 600,000 sq. ft. (55,741 sq m).

The two new towers are pretty straight-forward, unadorned steel-framed “boxes” with brick exterior, explained Tracy Hunt, vice president of operations of Skanska and project director on site. They will be attached with a common atrium showcasing architectural features.

The tower adjacent to the existing facility will house a dedicated cardiovascular surgical unit with four catheterization labs, a special procedures room, a nuclear medicine suite and 30 prep and recovery bays. It will offer spacious new private rooms, expanding the number of private rooms to 248. The hospital currently has 75 private and 110 semi-private rooms.

“It will be an all-private room facility,” Granger told a Columbus TV station. “You will no longer have a roommate when you come to St. Francis. We’ll be the only full service hospital in the community that has all private rooms.”

The second tower will house the Cardiac and Women’s Centers of Excellence and include a new 324-seat auditorium. Renovation of the main hospital will result in an expanded emergency room three times the size of the previous ER, including 20 new patient treatment rooms and an expanded surgical suite with seven additional operating rooms.

“Since we’re the area’s cardiac hospital, the expansion will also enable us to have a dedicated cardiovascular intensive care unit and treatment center in one facility,” said Granger. “We’re redoing the cardiac program, giving it a brand new home, redoing the emergency room, creating a dedicated cardiovascular intensive care unit. This is about our core services and needing private rooms for our core services.”

Due to the proximity of the structures and good access, Hunt said crews are able to use a crawler instead of tower cranes. However, because the towers are adjoined to the existing hospital, construction is challenging in other ways.

“The hardest thing about this project is working around the existing hospital,” Hunt explained.

Concern focused on “public flow” in corners of the existing building, as well as noise, vibration and dust.

In preparation for major demolition to open up the existing structure, crews performed surveys, took photos and made extensive notes, but the key, Hunt claimed, was getting the right subcontractor involved. Even so, he said they have to remain flexible.

“If things get too noisy, we have to stop.” Fortunately, Hunt noted, “Skanska has enough experience working on hospital projects that stoppages were factored into the schedule. It’s a hard-and-fast deadline. We work sunup to sundown six days a week, but we may have to do some of the work off-hours or at night if there’s too much noise or vibration.”

Rainy weather has further complicated plans, but Hunt said work remains on schedule. While site work and utility contractors were on site over the winter, Hunt said there were anywhere from 45 to 60 people working, but once the structure is up, that number will increase to more than 300 per day.

“We’ll have a concrete crew, a shoring contractor to hold up the building because we’re cutting the ground 30 feet, a caissons crew for the deep foundation, and small plumbing and electrical crews,” Hunt stated.

A significant amount of dirt work has already taken place. To create a new parking area, crews cut 5 to 6 ft. (1.5 to 1.8 m) over a three-acre area. In addition, the building pad, which sits on the side of a hill, required cutting up to 30 ft. (9 m).

“We moved a lot of dirt.” Hunt exclaimed. “When we were doing the pad, we had 400 to 450 dump trucks a day for about a month and a half.”

The good topsoil is being stored, awaiting return as needed for backfill.

For the Community’s Benefit

There also are plans to set up an obstetrics program to start delivering babies, in competition with Columbus Regional Healthcare System, which operates The Medical Center and Doctors Hospital, according to the Columbus Business Chronicle.

Although St. Francis received approval for the obstetrics program from the Georgia Department of Community Health in March 2010, the Medical Center, Doctors Hospital and Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus, Ga., filed appeals. They claim another baby ward is unnecessary and could impact patient safety and physician recruiting. The appeal is still pending. Granger anticipates litigation to be settled sometime next year.

“My lawyers tell me we can’t lose,” he told local media. “We believe without any question that we will be moving forward in the obstetrics area.”

The hospital CEO pointed out that the expansion was planned well before the obstetrics program was launched. The hospital is 60 years old and needs to be updated and enlarged.

“This is a huge project, around 90 percent of which is related to the existing St. Francis services, a very small portion of which may someday be devoted to obstetrical services.”

Granger insists that the community will be the primary beneficiary of the expansion.

“We’ll be able to expedite the care of heart patients coming to St. Francis and offer all patients more private rooms for their comfort and to help accelerate their recovery. Patients will have shorter wait times in our ER once this project and renovation of our main facility is complete. We’re committed to bringing world-class healthcare to Columbus and we need a world-class facility to do that,” Granger said.

According to Martha Bickerstaff, chair of St. Francis Hospital’s Board of Trustees, the expansion and renovation projects are in direct response to the community’s growing needs, as well as the physicians’ desire to provide the community with the safest, best possible care.

In addition to assisting the hospital in providing better service, the expansion has the potential to offer the community more jobs. The hospital currently employs nearly 2,000 full- and part-time workers. Granger told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer he expects St. Francis to grow its work force by a “few hundred jobs” over the next several years. He said the expansion is expected to create “150 new permanent jobs, and an annual payroll of $6 million.”

Because St. Francis partners with Columbus Technical and Columbus State University and financially supports their nursing programs, the hospital often hires nurses after graduation. Granger said that 15 new nursing graduates have been hired every six months for the last year and a half. With the expansion of its cardiac services, there’s potential for even more jobs because St. Francis will be able to implement procedures that local residents have previously had to seek in Atlanta.

The physicians and nurses are excited about getting a state-of-the-art facility, Granger indicated.

“We’ll have a completely brand new, rebuilt facility, as good as new and ready to serve the community for the next three to four generations.”

At that time, if another expansion is needed, he said the two new buildings can accommodate four additional floors.