After a two year planning process and unexpected delays caused by Hurricane Katrina, the St. Charles Parish Hospital is on pace to open a $24 million addition slightly ahead of schedule in January of 2008.
It's the first major expansion the hospital has undergone since the 1970's, according to Chief Operating Officer Karen Guillot. The three-story expansion to the 56-bed hospital is being constructed to replace all inpatient areas, medical and surgical patient rooms, inpatient psychiatric rooms and the intensive care unit.
While the project is actually a bit ahead of schedule now, the circumstances that caused the original delays were quite a handful to overcome, Guillot said, especially with the rising costs of construction post-Katrina. She and her staff soon discovered the $18.5 million total set aside for the expansion was only about 75 percent of what they would actually need.
"We were set to accept bids for the project originally in either September or October of 2005," Guillot said. "When we finally did go to bid, construction costs had gone through the roof. We had to secure another $5.5 million because construction costs went up about 35 to 40 percent."
Voters approved the loan for the necessary funds in July of 2006, and now the biggest obstacle they face during construction is the weather due to the initial phase of the project consisting primarily of outdoor labor.
"Luckily the weather has been kind," Guillot said.
The expansion will increase the total number of available licensed beds from 56 to 59, but many of the beds will be transferred to private rooms incresing overall compacity. Their current set-up sometimes leaves many of the beds unused depending on the condition of a patient. Certain patients require private rooms and that ultimately leads to a room with two beds only being half used.
"Overall, we will be able to utilize the beds more efficiently and have the capacity for higher occupancy," Guillot said.
St. Charles Parish Hospital currently has 20 private medical surgery rooms and 8 overflow beds that are not private. The expansion will increase to 31 private medical surgery rooms. The psychiatric unit, which is located in the oldest part of the hospital, will exchange a combination of 23 private and semi private beds for 20 private rooms.
Rounding out the revamped medical facility will be a new dialysis department in addition to a new cardiology department for outpatient cardiac rehab and cardiac studies including stress test and cardiac ultrasounds. The current facility has those areas spread out in various places of the hospital, Guillot noted. The new facility will join all of those areas into a central location to streamline services and care.
While the additional space will no doubt be helpful, Guillot said, it's important to note that the expansion was designed and is being constructed using current concepts in health care and healing environments coupled with the latest technology.
In fact, the hospital will actually be ahead of the curve for storing patient records electronically, a process that will be required by all hospitals in Louisiana by 2010. It's something that would not have been possible using the current facility, Guillot pointed out.
"The older areas would have had limited ability to use electronic records at best," Guillot said. "It just wasn't built for those sorts of applications in the 1970's."