New 745,000-square-foot hospital on track for November opening

benw@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 23, 2014 

Almost three years after breaking ground on the new Martin Army Community Hospital, the $388.5 million project is 89 percent complete and on track to finish in May, Fort Benning officials said.

"Looking at all the equipment and programs the way things are laid out, this is going to be the jewel of the Southern region," said Maj. Jon Camp, a business analyst for the Medical Department Activity.

Construction on the 745,000-square-foot hospital is expected to end May 19 and the first patient is scheduled for Nov. 17.

The hospital complex on Bass Road is almost double the size of the current hospital, which opened 56 years ago. In addition to the eight-story hospital, the 70-bed facility has a four-story Upatoi Clinic and a three-story Oak Ridge Clinic to serve more than 54,000 local residents.

Since breaking ground on the project in April 2011, Turner Construction Co. of Huntsville, Ala., has finished the exterior walls of the facility, installed all the windows and painted most walls in sections of the complex. Last week, workers were walking through areas and posting signs in finished sections.

"The hospital currently is going through an exhaustive operations study," Camp said. "Everyone sits down and they map out exactly how they are going to work. We are going through these briefings now, and they will continue until six months after the hospital has opened."

From the emergency room on the first floor to the intensive care unit on the sixth floor, the building has plenty of natural lighting, spacious rooms and areas for visiting families. There also is a rooftop garden and two large healing gardens.

With monitoring stations and new equipment in the ICU, a nurse can take care of patients without ever going into the rooms, Camp said.

"Rooms are designed for families to be there," he said. "A bed pulls out into a twin bed to encourage families to be there with loved ones."

Each room is separated into zones for the staff, patient and family. "They are quite larger than normal," Camp said.

On the fifth floor, the entire space is set aside for expectant mothers and babies. The floor has five labor and delivery rooms, a Caesarian section suite and 14 mother and baby side beds.

Terry Beckwith, a public affairs spokeswoman for the hospital, said officials are working on a plan to serve mothers during the switch to the new building.

"We have to come up with a plan to see how we are going to see patients concurrently in the new hospital and that hospital at the same time until we switch over," she said.

If a pregnant mother comes in when the department is moving, she may have to use a local hospital. "She may have (her baby) in the old hospital, she may have it in the new hospital," Beckwith said.

For soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and other behavioral health illnesses, Camp said the fourth floor has seven private rooms and space to observe a person in distress. The floor has a clinic, case managers, social workers and other mental health staff.

No medical services are provided on the third floor. Camp said all mechanical equipment for heating and cooling the facility is located on the floor.

All surgical procedures take place on the second floor, with five general operating rooms and one orthopedic operating room. There are also two endo-urology suites and six oral surgery rooms.

The most visible and scenic section of the hospital is the grand concourse, which allows access to the two clinics, pharmacy, food court and the hospital tower. Near the concourse is a small stream that runs throughout the hospital.

Although the construction ends in two months, Beckwith said that's when about $112 million worth of equipment and furniture will be installed. Furnishings will increase the building cost to $500 million.

At least two "day in the life of a patient" scenarios will be conducted to simulate a patient's experience.

"We will be testing phone systems, overhead systems and equipment before we see the first patient," she said. "We want to be confident that everything is running smoothly. We also will look at how we provide care, how it is laid out differently than the current facility. That is what we will be working on, fine-tuning the patient care experience."

The hospital now employs more than 2,000 staffers, but more will be needed at the new hospital. At least 300 positions will be added. Two hundred staffers already have been hired after a job fair netted almost 1,200 applicants.

"They will be taken down to the facility to be trained," Beckwith said. "In the fall, we will be hiring for another 100 positions."

Those jobs include food service, housekeepers, cardiologists, nurses, physical therapists, medical support assistants, clerical staff, security assistants and others.

"We are also looking to add volunteers to help get people to appointments," Beckwith said. "It's all about the patient experience."

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