St. Francis ready to unveil its new Women's Hospital

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 13, 2013 

St. Francis Hospital, moving toward completion of its largest expansion ever, will mark a major milestone Tuesday with the public debut of its new Women's Hospital.

A high-profile element of the $110 million project that has taken two years to reach this point, the hospital will be a one-stop shop for women's care.

Services will range from diagnosing breast cancer through state-of-the-art mammograms, treating infertility, scanning bone-density, doing routine checkups and -- a first for the Manchester Expressway hospital in more than three decades -- delivering babies.

"What thrills me is to see how excited people are about women's health care," said Dr. Susan Epley, a senior physician with St. Francis OBGYN Associates. "Sometimes women's health care gets on the back of the burner. But it isn't now. It's right in the forefront and we are giving women everything."

The Women's Hospital will be on full display Tuesday, with an 11:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by tours of the facility. The Butler Pavilion also will be dedicated. About 6,000 invitations have been sent out, while all local residents are invited to come check out the new home of women's treatment at St. Francis.

Like the new Heart Hospital, which opened in May, the latest piece of the project will bring doctors, patients and facilities together in one area on the expanded campus. Along with St. Francis OBGYN Associates, St. Francis OBGYN Physician Partners will be located there, as will the Elena Diaz-Verson Amos Center for Breast Health.

"It's a major step forward for the community. It's fundamentally different than anything that we've had before," said Robert Granger, president and chief executive officer of St. Francis Hospital.

"This really was created by the doctors," he said. "This was something that grew out of the physicians coming to St. Francis and asking us to get involved in women's care because they were frustrated with the state of women's care in our community."

The clustering of facilities with skilled doctors, nurses and technicians -- along with an electronic medical records system -- will make care and treatment of patients "incredibly efficient," Granger said. Women won't have to travel to several offices in the city for appointments, while doctors will be able to examine, treat and check up on their patients in one central location, he said.

Of course, the introduction of baby deliveries at St. Francis is a critical part of the expansion. The hospital last delivered an infant into the arms of its parents in 1981. The first baby born at the hospital in 1950 is expected to be at Tuesday's event.

Granger said St. Francis and its physicians are estimating they could deliver between 1,500 and 2,000 babies in the first year of service. That would be a little less than half of deliveries in the community.

"That wouldn't be a bad start," he said. "We believe long term we'll be well over that. We believe we have the best physicians and the best equipment and the best services, and we think folks will make the right choice. We're very confident in that."

Until now, Midtown Medical Center (formerly The Medical Center) and Doctors Specialty Hospital (formerly Doctors Hospital) were the only facilities that brought children into the world. In the last fiscal year ending June 30, The Medical Center handled 3,293 births, while Doctors Hospital had 1,019.

Columbus Regional Health, those two hospitals' parent organization, stopped deliveries at Doctors more than a week ago to convert it into other uses. Columbus Specialty Hospital is relocating there, while it also will house physician offices and the current urgent-care clinic.

Columbus Regional also is expected to seek a state certificate of need to start delivering babies at Northside Medical Center (formerly Hughston Hospital) on Veterans Parkway on the city's north side, just south of Columbus Park Crossing. An emergency room also will be launched there.

And while St. Francis will have brand new state-of-the-art baby delivery facilities, Midtown Medical Center will still have the only high-risk intensive care unit locally.

"We are not going to be delivering high-risk obstetric patients here," Epley said of St. Francis. "We will be seeing people who have high-risk factors through our office work. But the new neo-natal intensive care unit is at The Medical Center, and if the mother has an issue where we're even slightly concerned, we will still be delivering high-risk mothers there."

The expansion at St. Francis is its largest since the hospital opened in 1950. It includes a four-story, 189,000-square-foot clinical services building, a five-story, 168,000-square-foot medical office building and an emergency department that is now three times bigger than the previous one.

There's also an expanded surgical suite, adding one operating room, a cardiovascular intensive care unit and a medical intensive care unit. A new conference center, which includes a 324-seat auditorium, is also new to the campus.

While the major components of the expansion are now complete, Granger said construction at St. Francis will continue for at least four months, with older parts of the hospital being modernized as well. Renovation of the existing critical care unit is part of that, which will give the hospital three such units in all.

"It's really not been two years (of work). It's been almost six because we began with the initial renovation of the interior of the original St. Francis Hospital, and we've been going systematically through the entire hospital as part of this overall plan to upgrade and modernize and have a completely refurbished and up-to-date St. Francis throughout the entire facility," said Granger, estimating the price tag for the full body of campus expansion and renovation in the neighborhood of $150 million.

"It's a combination of joy, relief, anxiety, all of the above," he said, with a laugh, when asked about his feelings about now having the finish line in sight for the mammoth project.

"What's left is to make it really deliver our promise of a significant improvement in health care for our community. And that's what was behind the goal from the beginning," he said.

Epley, who has delivered more babies than she can count in her nearly 30-year career, said she believes people will be "amazed" by the new facilities, particularly the Women's Hospital in which she and other obstetricians, gynecologists, midwives, nurses, mammogram technicians and administrative staff now call their professional home.

"It's an incredibly beautiful place," she said. "We were in a building before where the roof leaked and the plumbing didn't work and the electrical didn't work. ... We aren't talking about sparing anything here. I don't think physicians -- or patients -- could ask for more than what's available. We're thrilled. We are just walking around on a cloud."

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