Investing in health care: Hospital launches expansion and renovation project

February 24, 2019

Columbus Community Hospital’s interior and exterior will change forever starting in the coming weeks.

This spring, CCH will commence work on a substantial $35 million renovation effort that will drastically change its appearance inside and out, as well as vastly enhance services. The latter, hospital leaders say, will greatly benefit the thousands of people who rely on the local entity for health care.

The project will be a remodel and expansion – 45,000 square feet in new construction and about 31,000 square feet in remodeling.

“So all told, we’re touching over 75,000 square feet of space,” said CCH Vice President Scott Messersmith. “This is a very large project.”

The biggest structural change will be an expanded surgical services department, which will be built on the first floor of the hospital to the north of the existing surgical services department. Right now, tentative plans call for it to have five operating rooms with space dedicated to same-day surgeries, minor and endoscopic procedures.

The first floor will also be equipped with an addition to the east of the Prairie Wind Café, where conference rooms, simulation lab and a new cardiopulmonary rehabilitation department will be constructed.

The maternal child health department will be moving to the third floor with the skilled nursing and swing bed units moving to the second floor. With that change, officials noted, maternal child health will occupy space presently used for conference rooms and cardiopulmonary rehabilitation. The unit is expected to include eight rooms for labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum, in addition to four more rooms for postpartum care.

The first thing to happen will be construction crews in March working on the north addition and the staff parking area. That will be followed by work on the east addition.

“The east addition is critical because before anything can move off of our third floor and our second floor up to our third floor, this has to be built first,” fellow CCH Vice President Dorothy Bybee said. “So conference rooms, administrative areas (simulation lab, conference rooms, nutritious services), that all has to happen before anything else can take place.”

The decision for the expansion didn’t come out of the blue. The project, which is slated for completion at the end of 2021, has been in the works for several years. CCH President/CEO Michael Hansen said the hospital’s Senior Leadership Team and board of directors complete a Facility Master Plan and five-year strategic plan to eye where the organization is at and where it should be moving forward in an effort to best provide patients with top-tier facilities and treatment.

In the case of the expansion, it fits into those goals and is a necessity.

“Columbus is one of the few towns our size in Nebraska that continues to grow and flourish, and I think that’s because we have a good mix of ag, manufacturing, health care and other things. There’s just a great mix of business,” Hansen said, noting a hospital community health assessment sent out every three years also tells officials what the community needs health-care wise. “We’ve been focusing on growing and have done quite a bit over the last nine years that I’ve been here.”

The proof is in the pudding. Following the completion of CCH’s last fiscal year, doctors completed roughly 400 more procedures than the previous fiscal period (an approximate 9-percent increase, according to Chad Van Cleave, CCH vice president of finance. CCH has also added several surgeons throughout the years to meet the need in the community, essentially outgrowing its 16-year-old facility in the process.

“We’re really getting to the point where scheduling procedures is becoming more and more difficult. Surgeons typically like to operate early and typically don’t like to stay really late, so you kind of have to compress everything into a very tight schedule,” Hansen said. “So we continue to look at sustaining and growing our surgical lines with all those pressures in terms of the number of surgeries that we’re doing.”

The conceptual design for the project began about three years ago. Plans for the enhancements were put under a microscope and refined repeatedly before getting to this point – and that was strategic, Hansen stressed. The board expects officials to keep the project on time and budget, which Hansen said it will be.

“I think our team has done a good job with that. We wanted to make sure we did it right. I believe when you do something of this magnitude we need to get it right and do it right the first time,” he said. “That involved communicating properly to all key stakeholders involved in this – physicians, staff, the board, everybody.

“We really had a lot of meetings to talk about this project, refine it and get it to where it is today because we want it to be a state-of-the-art facility that is going to last a long time and long after we’re all gone. So we really took our time to do it right and it is fiscally responsible.”

How it was executed was a crucial component. As hospital officials discussed how to proceed, they decided to remodel and expand rather than just the latter to be more cost-effective and mindful of generations to come.

“Why not just build 75,000 additional square feet of space?” Messersmith asked. “It’s actually easier to modify our current space than to put it over the OR, which at that point you limit what you can potentially do in the future. If we were to put it over the OR and there were any sort of issues down the line, you might have to shut down the OR to make those changes. It just didn’t make sense. Doing it this way is economically responsible.”

CCH will maintain regular operations throughout the renovation process, however, its leaders acknowledge there will be some frustration as everyone who works or visits the site will have to adapt to the construction going on. Bybee said they’re going to try to minimize the impact and continue to follow infection control protocol (practices used to prevent transmission of diseases that can be acquired by contact with blood, body fluids and non-intact skin, among other things).

Ultimately, she said, the minor construction inconveniences will be worth enduring for all the terrific benefits that will come out of the enhancements.

“We have an opportunity to look at all those different areas and see how we can improve for the patients and staff. It’s an exciting time to be here,” she said. “We have a strong commitment to our community to provide services they need so that they don’t have to go out of town. That is what has driven this expansion.

Messersmith agreed, noting that the upgrades will have no impact on the cost of day-to-day health care.

“This is an investment in our community, so good news is, because of this expansion, it allows us to do a lot of additional things but it does not impact the cost of health care in the community,” he said. “The hospital is very financially stable with help from the (CCH Foundation). It just seems like the more we do, the more synergy we gain, we figure out the more we can do. It’s about maximizing quality care for families close to home.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.