HEALTH CARE: NMC projects get green light

Major changes in the works at area hospital

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

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ST. ALBANS — The Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB) has given its approval for $33.2 million in renovations and new construction at Northwestern Medical Center (NMC).

“We’re thrilled,” said Jonathan Billings, NMC’s vice president for planning and community relations, this morning.

The work is divided into two projects. The first will convert existing beds in two units to a single unit with single occupancy rather than shared rooms. The second is the construction of a new two-story building to provide space for primary care and specialty practices.

“We read it as a very supportive tone and an understanding of the vision of these projects,” said Billings of the two decisions, which were issued on Friday.

In order to receive approval for the projects, NMC had to demonstrate a medical need for the improvements and that it had the financial resources to make the changes without increasing the cost of providing care. In issuing its decision, the GMCB wrote: “the costs of both projects are reasonable and that NMC can sustain the costs of both without unduly increasing the cost of care. This results from NMC’s method of financing each project and the strength of its cash position and balance sheet.”

The board’s decision demonstrates “this is not only the right project for the community, but for the State of Vermont,” Billings said.

Seventy-six percent of the care provided at NMC is to outpatients rather than to people staying in the hospital overnight.

The new 43,60- square-foot building will consolidate primary care services at the front of the NMC campus including: primary care, urgent care, orthopedics, interventional pain, x-ray, and phlebotomy services. The building will have “thirty two universal exam rooms, three cast rooms, three diagnostic imaging rooms (x-ray), two procedure rooms, screening rooms for occupational health, a phlebotomy suite, consultation rooms, offices, clinical support, a staff lounge and conference spaces, according to the GMCB decision.

Currently, those services are housed in three different buildings us. Consolidation into a single location would both be more efficient and allow for greater consultation and collaboration amongst providers, GMCB found.

The new building will cost $12.6 million, with $3.7 million to come from loans and the rest from existing funds.

NMC is also proposing to improve inpatient care by converting 20 two-person rooms in the medical-surgical until and the ICU into a single 34-room unit with all rooms holding a single patient. This project involves renovating 17,600 square feet of existing space and adding 25,150 square feet of new space.

Single patient rooms are now the standard for new hospital construction in Vermont because they make it easier to control infection, allow patients more rest and privacy, allow for greater involvement of family members, and reduce the risk of medication errors, according to the GMCB.

The renovations also will include the creation of a centralized registration area at the hospital entrance.

The cost of the renovations is $20.6 million, with $13.2 million to be borrowed and $7.4 million from NMC.

Anticipating the need for improvements, the NMC board had been setting aside funds for this project for some time, said Billings.

The project was presented to the community in October, and now hospital staff is working with architects to finalize the design, including where beds and equipment will be located within the rooms.

Doctors, nurses, and techs are able to visit 3-D mock-ups of exam and inpatient rooms, said Billings, and provide feedback on what arrangements of beds and equipment will work best.

NMC is also applying for its Act 250, stormwater and other permits. Although water and sewer allocations are once again caught up in litigation, Billings said he expects allocations will be available for the project.

Fundraising is also getting underway, first with the NMC board, staff, and established donors. That effort will expand into the community next year, Billings said.