The emergency department renovation project would expand into a paved space located on the northeast side of the hospital.

ST. ALBANS CITY – Northwestern Medical Center is eyeing a $7.5 million expansion of its emergency department.

Jonathan Billings, vice president of community relations, said NMC's emergency department was originally built around 1989, and the hospital has been considering an upgrade since before the pandemic in order to bring it up to modern standards.

“This project is to modernize the emergency department and bring it to alignment with current medical practices,” Billings said.

Currently, the emergency department utilizes curtained treatment bays to separate patients. Billings said the expansion would eliminate such use by updating those areas, thereby increasing patient privacy and safety while also allowing the hospital to better limit the spread of infectious airborne diseases, such as COVID-19, via additional air quality controlled rooms.

“The project predates COVID, but COVID has clearly exacerbated the need and clearly illustrated the need,” Billings said. “If you have someone with active COVID-19, you can't put them in a curtained treatment bay.”

The emergency department expansion would also add six emergency department treatment stations to bring the hospital's total up to 20.

As for its footprint, the project would add 2,400 square feet to NMC's northeast side and renovate another existing 6,800 square feet. The outline of the building, however, would remain largely unchanged as the addition would take advantage of a paved area already surrounded on three sides by NMC. The hospital had previously used the space to store a portable MRI machine.

By using the space, Billings said construction would be less noticeable than the hospital's 2017 project when it added a medical office building. Traffic flows should also remain largely unchanged except for a few more construction vehicles in the neighborhood.

As for the project's timeline, NMC has to check off a few more procedural boxes before construction can actually begin. The project went before the City’s Development Review Board on Wednesday night to begin the 45-day deliberation process required for site plan approval.

At the meeting, local neighbors had some questions about previous noise considerations, but it remains to be seen how much import such comments will affect the process.

Outside of procedural permitting, Billings said another major obstacle for the expansion project may be market forces. Because of the rising costs of materials and labor in the construction market, NMC may have to reconsider increasing its earlier $7.5 million estimate, which would require them to go back to Vermont's Green Mountain Care Board for another round of state approvals.

Additionally, the current emergency department would need to be rearranged for construction to begin, and Billings said the pandemic has complicated how the hospital would proceed with the project. Once started, however, he estimated construction time would take about a year.

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