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St. Joe’s replacement to be built next door

December 20, 2018

After considering more than a dozen sites for its new hospital, Lutheran Health Network determined the $120 million investment is best suited for property neighboring the downtown facility it will replace.

Construction on Lutheran Downtown Hospital : a five-floor, 181,000-square-foot building : is expected to begin next summer at Main and Van Buren streets, with completion expected in late 2021, officials announced Wednesday. The targeted occupancy date is January 2022.

It will replace St. Joseph Hospital, which will be razed for more parking.

Mike Poore, regional president and chief executive officer for Lutheran Health, detailed the plans to a packed room at St. Joe.

“We’ve gone through a lot of careful consideration and looked at properties throughout Allen County,” Poore said, “and we believe this is our best option for serving our community and serving the downtown.”

Demographics and traffic patterns factored into the decision, as well as the fact that Lutheran owns the site, which should help plans move more quickly, Poore said.

The property is currently used for physician and employee parking.

With a main entrance on Van Buren Street facing east, the new 60-bed acute-care hospital will include such features as a 19-bed emergency department, three cardiac catheterization labs, two gastroenterology suites, robotic-assisted surgery, laboratory services and the regional burn center. It will be able to accommodate future growth to more than 100 beds.

Its size reflects the fact that more services are being offered in outpatient settings, Poore said. By comparison, St. Joe has 191 beds, and many floors are empty, he said, likening it to a size-6 foot in a size-12 shoe.

“Ever proud of our history, which we will honor in the new facility, it has been clear for quite some time that reaching our fullest potential requires a structure designed to accommodate the technologies and best practices that are givens in modern health care,” said Jerry Henry, St. Joe board chairman.

“This commitment also demonstrates our desire to be a leader in Fort Wayne’s ongoing work to transform its central city,” he added. “A hospital that reflects where we want to be as opposed to where we’ve been is a vital piece of the puzzle.”

Poore, who recognized St. Joe’s legacy, said the project is an opportune time to adopt a new name for the hospital.

Mayor Tom Henry commended Lutheran Health and parent company Community Health Systems for their dedication to downtown.

“This new hospital is something that didn’t have to happen, but they made a commitment to us,” Tom Henry said, acknowledging that many suspected St. Joe’s lifespan was limited.

Tom and Jerry Henry are brothers.

Access to health care downtown is important considering about 2,000 people live in the area, Tom Henry said.

“Now, with this announcement,” the mayor said, “they can rest comfortably at night knowing that they have a hospital right down the street.”

Along with St. Joe, the vacant plaza office building, which formerly housed the nursing school, will be demolished. The attached medical office building and the parking garage will continue to be used.

ARCH, Fort Wayne’s nonprofit historic architecture preservation group, issued a statement on social media about Lutheran’s decision to raze the existing hospital.

“ARCH’s staff and board are doing their due diligence right now, making sure we clearly understand the Lutheran Downtown Hospital project and its impact on the city, the neighborhood and the historic sense of place that is that area of the city’s special gift to us all,” the nonprofit said. “We are looking at gains and losses, pros and cons and plan on issuing a public statement in the near future.”

Lutheran may pursue economic incentives for the new hospital, but officials haven’t had discussions about the topic, spokesman Geoff Thomas said.

asloboda@jg.net

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