Healthcare: Md. sees hospital building boom

Healthcare: Md. sees hospital building boom

By Edward Gunts for the Baltimore Sun

The University of Maryland Medical Center and Sinai Hospital of Baltimore are running out of room.

Johns Hopkins Medicine and Mercy Medical Center need to replace outmoded facilities.

Anne Arundel Medical Center expects an influx of people to move nearby as part of the federal government’s military base realignment effort and other regional growth.

Central Maryland is in the midst of a health care building boom, with more than $2 billion worth of hospital expansion projects under construction or planned to begin this year in Baltimore and the surrounding counties. An additional $500 million worth of health care-related projects are in the works near local medical centers.

While other development has slowed as a result of the recession, hospitals throughout the region are adding emergency rooms, operating suites, pediatric units and other facilities. Additional life sciences buildings are opening for researchers and lab technicians who want to be near hospitals or in one of Baltimore’s two bioparks.

Many of these projects were planned long before the economic downturn and are just getting off the drawing board or coming to completion. More than a few are benefiting from a decline in construction costs resulting from the lack of work elsewhere.

For the communities where they’re located, these projects are welcome signs of growth in an otherwise bleak construction landscape. They also bring jobs, both within hospitals and in the form of research and other spinoff work.

“It’s the great growth industry in the city,” said M.J. “Jay” Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp. “Not just hospitals. Research laboratories. Bioparks. Teaching facilities. Housing for people who want to be near hospitals. There’s a whole network beyond just hospitals.”

Behind the boom is a confluence of factors, including old buildings, a receptive bond market and a growing demand for medical services, said Pam Barclay, director of the Center for Hospital Services for the Maryland Health Care Commission.

“The thing is that it all came together,” she said.

An aging population is another key factor, said Rolf Haarstad, a principal of Hord Coplan Macht, the architect for several of the projects. “We’re all getting older. Our faculties are failing more. We’re finding more and more things going wrong with people, because the equipment is becoming so sophisticated,” he said. “The demographics are driving the work, more than anything.”

At the same time, academic institutions are partnering with industry to create products for patients, and that contributes to the need for more space, said Jane Shaab, executive director of the University of Maryland-Baltimore Biopark. Companies want to be close to medical campuses and the brainpower assembled there, she said.

“It’s a matter of bringing together some of the strengths we already have,” she said. “This marriage of commercial activity with academic activity in the life sciences is really going to help the economy grow.”

Just this month, a $160 million project at the University of Maryland Medical Center, primarily to enlarge its Shock Trauma Center, received a “certificate of need” from the Maryland Health Care Commission – the green light needed to move ahead with construction.

Administrators expect demand for trauma, emergency and critical care services to increase, and they say some areas already have reached maximum patient capacity. Shock Trauma, for example, serves more than 8,000 patients a year in a building meant to accommodate 3,500 annually when it opened in 1989. Set to begin construction in May if the state approves funding, the nine-level addition will have 10 new operating rooms.

Changing approaches to clinical care and a trend toward private rooms are also driving factors behind some projects.

Sinai, which is building a $29.5 million addition to its Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital, is expanding because it had run out of space. As one of the first hospitals in the nation to allow parents to sleep at the bedside in the pediatric intensive care unit, Sinai also wants to eliminate semi-private rooms. The latest project’s design is based on “family-centered care,” meaning the patient’s family takes part along with the physician in the diagnosis, treatment and care of the child.

“We are going to be offering private rooms for everyone, to give not only a richer, safer environment for patients but also to give more flexibility in staffing and in providing the array of services that children need,” said Warren Green, chief executive of LifeBridge Health, Sinai’s corporate parent.

At Mercy, administrators note that a 1950s-era tower was designed before the invention of most bedside monitoring equipment, the passage of privacy legislation and the recognition of family and friends as contributors in the healing process. The center is replacing it with the Mary Catherine Bunting Center, a $400 million, 18-story project that will open by year’s end.

In addition, they say, many of the patients in Mercy’s present tower must share a room, a practice they want to discontinue.

“Private rooms are now the standard of care because they reduce the risk of infection, medication errors and falls, and are simply more comfortable for patients,” said Mercy Chief Executive Thomas Mullen.

Mullen said nationally many community hospitals are in financial straits, with constraints on Medicare and Medicaid, the rising cost of charity care and the erosion of downtown communities. “Mercy’s expansion is evidence of how one urban community hospital is bucking this trend,” he said.

Several expansions will help medical centers take advantage of the federal government’s military base realignment and closure effort, known as BRAC, which is expected to bring thousands of employees to bases in Maryland. Near Fort Meade, for example, Anne Arundel Medical Center is completing a $424 million expansion to meet a projected demand for services from military families moving to its area.

The biggest expansion under way now is at Johns Hopkins Hospital, which is spending more than $1 billion to replace much of its East Baltimore medical campus. It includes construction of two 10-story clinical towers along Orleans Street, one for adults and one for children, as well as renovation of older buildings on the Hopkins campus.

Other expanding institutions are St. Agnes Hospital, Franklin Square, Northwest Hospital and Maryland General, which recently completed a $57 million addition. Many were built or last enlarged in the 1950s and 1960s.

As hospitals grow, Central Maryland is seeing health care-related facilities taking shape around them.

The latest projects at the East Baltimore Development Initiative, an 88-acre mixed-use community just north of Hopkins’ medical campus, include a $180 million public laboratory that will replace outmoded labs and a high-rise residence for medical students. At the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in East Baltimore, a private group called Bayview Partners this spring is opening a $25 million building, adding clinical, research and administrative space.

On the west side, the University of Maryland-Baltimore Biopark has been so successful that planners are seeking city approval to revise its master plan to cover 10.5 acres, up from 4.5 acres. Construction is expected to begin this year on the third of 10 buildings, a six-story, $70 million structure. Already under construction is the Forensic Science Building, a $43 million structure that will replace the state’s old Chief Medical Examiner’s headquarters. The School of Pharmacy is building a seven-story, $67 million addition that’s due to open by late summer.

The construction boom shows no sign of fading. As long as health care keeps evolving, planners say, professionals will need up-to-date facilities to accommodate it.

“The demand for health care doesn’t change,” said Carmela Coyle, president and chief executive of the Maryland Hospital Association. “Unlike the demand for cars or electronics, people still get sick. They still get into accidents. They still need health care.”

[baltimoresun.com]

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