Hospital seeks tax funds for 3 departments
Growing number of patients, doctors drives need for more space, administrators say.
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
July 14, 2010
In the oncology department at St. John’s Medical Center, a couch that sits in a waiting area doubles as spillover space when the department — a narrow corridor akin to a hallway — gets busy.
Staff at the hospital’s obstetrics department had to deliver a baby in an exam room several weeks ago because there were no any other rooms available.
And staff in the hospital’s surgery department have had to stash some equipment in hallways and, in one case, a space only slightly larger than a closet adjacent to the department.
To assuage these problems, St. John’s administrators and officials are asking voters to approve a request for $11.75 million from the specific purpose excise tax this fall.
The money would be put toward construction and remodeling that will affect more than 52,000 square feet. Approximately 20,850 square feet of new space would be built, and 31,665 square feet of existing hospital would be renovated.
The additional and remodeled spaces are expected to relieve some of the crowding in the hospital’s surgery, obstetrics and oncology departments.
“There really aren’t any of these departments that can wait for an upgrade,” said hospital CEO Pam Maher. “They’re all out of space. Prioritizing these projects could mean two to four more years. They’re all right at the edge right now, and to put this off that much more would push them beyond that.”
Like many other SPET hopefuls, St. John’s staff have the statistics to back up their claims.
Since 2003, when the oncology department moved into new space in the hospital, patient visits to the department have increased by about 43 percent, according to statistics included in a brochure about the hospital’s SPET proposal.
Judy Basye, director of oncology, said that the number of annual visits has increased by 1,084 in the past seven years. Figures went from 1,716 visits in 2002-2003 to 2,800 visits in 2009-2010.
Additionally, the number of hours spent treating patients has increased. In 2009-2010, department staff spent 4,457 hours treating patients, up from 2,603 hours in 2002-2003.
That increase has translated into a cramped treatment space. There is equipment, such as a blood warmer and a storage device for medical supplies, that does not fit in the department. Sometimes staff are unable to offer patients privacy for treatment or for consultations.
The expansion project would double the oncology department’s space and include new access to the hospital’s pharmacy for chemotherapy drugs. In addition, the project calls for a new entryway and waiting area as well as two private exam rooms and an additional treatment area.
“With continued growth and a continued increase in patient hours, and as chemo treatments get more complex, the facility will also need to continue to grow,” said Micheal Tennican, president of the hospital’s board of trustees.
In St. John’s obstetrics department, staff have to deal with similarly tight quarters.
Both the obstetrics department and the hospital’s operating rooms have not been renovated since they were built in 1991. On a recent tour of the facility, hospital spokeswoman Karen Connelly said of the obstetrics department, “I think there’s been fresh wallpaper put on twice in the past 20 years.”
However the number of births has increased by 205 deliveries over the past eight years. In 2009-2010, hospital staff delivered 533 babies, up from 328 in 2002.
The department currently has two warmers for newborns; three labor, delivery and recovery rooms; and four post-partum rooms. During busy times, department staff said, they have had to transfer patients to the patient care unit, which is across a hallway from obstetrics.
“We give them a phone because the call lights are set up to go to the PCU station,” Tauni Rowberry, a traveling nurse who works in the obstetrics department said.
The expansion would create additional space for the department, giving the hospital six labor, delivery and recovery rooms, two ante-partum rooms, and eight post-partum rooms.
For the hospital’s surgery department, the expansion would mean an additional three operating rooms, doubling the department’s current number.
The department’s post-anesthesia care unit, sterile processing unit and pre-operation staging area would also be expanded through the project.
The need for extra space in the surgery department is driven by the additional of several surgeons, which, in turn, has created an increase in the number of surgeries being performed.
Since 2000, the number of surgeries performed at St. John’s has increased by 22 percent, according to statistics provided by the hospital.
Preliminary estimates put the total cost of the project at $25.9 million. In addition to the $11.75 hospital administrators desire from SPET, they expect to use about $3 million in cash and to take on about $11.25 million in debt to pay for the balance of the project.
“We’ve done analysis of our debt capacity and our ability to draw down our cash reserves and concluded that that was kind of the limit of what we could handle,” Tennican said, referring to the hospital’s share of the cost.
If approved, construction on the expansion is expected to begin some time next year.