Article by Mainebiz
Older facilities and increasing patient volume, faced with new technologies and care protocols, are driving new investment in hospitals around Maine.
Northern Light Health is redeveloping hospitals in Blue Hill, Greenville, Bangor, Ellsworth and Portland. In Lewiston, Central Maine Healthcare is building a new cancer care center to consolidate care currently spread among multiple facilities. And MaineHealth, Maine’s largest hospital system, is nearly completion on its major expansion in Portland, and has other projects in the works.
“Our older facilities were not built for the way that health care is provided today, and they will not allow us to meet future standards of care,” says Tim Dentry, president and CEO of Northern Light Health.
Central Maine Healthcare’s new cancer center will make it easier for patients and staff to “navigate their care,” says Hector Tarraza, chief of the CMH Oncology Institute and associate chief of surgery.
“Picture this: A patient arrives in one facility where they have easy access to all of the services and the multi-disciplinary team under one roof,” he says. “It makes for a much easier process.”
Like Maine’s population, many Maine hospitals are getting on in years.
Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association in Augusta, says the hospitals are getting busier, with more patients.
The increased patient volume, combined with the need for more efficient workflow and telehealth capacity are creating the need for hospital renovations and additions. New protocols around infection and quality control are also driving the new construction.
“We still have places with double occupancy rooms,” Michaud says. “In this era of really looking at infections, there’s a lot of pressure to reconfigure our physical plants in order to make patients safer, keep people apart and improve ventilation. That means we need more private rooms and we need to restructure some of these physical plants.”
Northern Light Health, headquartered in Brewer, has five projects underway.
Two “rural modernization” projects are in the permitting process to replace century-old, 25-bed critical access buildings at Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital and Greenville’s Northern Light CA Dean Hospital. “I always look at it as opportunities for improvement,” says Dentry.
The Blue Hill building is nearly a century old. The $19 million project will result in a 21,200-square-foot addition, including 10 private inpatient rooms, a 24/7 emergency care facility and space for ancillary services such as imaging, lab and rehabilitation services.
In Greenville, most of Northern Light CA Dean Hospital’s facilities are decades old. The $15.8 million project will replace part of the existing building with five private patient “flex care” rooms, 24/7 emergency department, and imaging and lab spaces; separate ambulance garage, and an FAA-approved helipad. An existing wing will be renovated to house 10 private, long-term beds.
Both projects will expand telemedicine capability, considered an important component of coordinated care management, especially in rural areas.
Northern Light’s push to expand telemedicine accelerated over the past year, particularly with federal investment in rural communities and broadband expansion.
Expanded telemedicine means having appropriate infrastructure, says Tim Doak, associate vice president of facility planning, design and construction. That includes patient rooms and provider spaces fitted up with communications technology such as cameras, monitors and wifi connections.
“Every exam room in the emergency department and every patient room will be equipped with telemedicine capacity,” says Doak.
A trend toward private patient rooms is considered important, says Doak, for supporting patient well-being and controlling infection spread.
“We’re embracing more of a team structure of clinicians and for staff at all levels, so they can collaborate on best care models,” says Doak.
New technology also includes high-efficiency climate control and lighting systems. Construction for both hospitals is expected to begin next spring, with completion the following year.
“We have a unique opportunity to come together as a healthcare system to provide core services as close to home as possible and improve access to highly specialized care in innovative ways,” says Dentry. “These future-focused projects will enhance telehealth, care coordination, and rapid medical transport to extend the services provided in our communities.”
Dentry says the pandemic reinforced the need for strong rural hospitals.
Three other Northern Light projects are in the works:
Mercy was founded during the flu epidemic of 1918, Dentry notes.
“And now here we are in the throes of this pandemic and we are creating a brand-new campus,” Dentry says. “It’s a challenging profession even in normal years, let alone during the pandemic. So to be able to do this with and for our staff is career-defining for me.”
Central Maine Healthcare last October broke ground on a $33.2 million cancer center on its Lewiston campus. The 52,000-square foot building, expected to be operational by next April, consolidates radiation oncology, medical oncology and surgical oncology departments under one roof, as well as other specialties, including therapy, diagnostics, financial and nurse navigators.
The center will also accommodate two new linear accelerators for advanced radiation treatment. The old spaces didn’t have room for the new technology, which provides more accurate treatments with fewer side effects, says Tarraza. The machinery itself is larger than CMH’s older linear accelerators; it also requires more space around it to operate.
Current oncology-related capacity is 43,000 patient visits per year. The consolidated facility will increase capacity by 10% to 20%, says Tarraza. Improved efficiency will likely mean staffing will remain the same, he adds.
Consolidation brings cost savings, says CMH Interim President and CEO Steven Littleson.
“Imagine a patient trying to schedule a visit with a primary care doctor and then a surgeon and then a medical oncologist. Those are all separate visits,” he says. “The multi-disciplinary approach brings all those providers into one space at one time. It’s more efficient.”
“It’s all about a healing environment that favors both the patients and the staff,” he says. We are working in an area now that’s quite crowded and it’s very challenging.”
MaineHealth, Maine’s largest hospital system, has numerous projects underway: