FIRST AID FOR ST. JOSEPH Towson hospital will ease crowding with new building


Corridors doubling as waiting rooms and crowded surgical preparation rooms are about to become things of the past at St. Joseph as the Towson hospital prepares to open its South Building on Monday.

The hospital's staff is praising -- and its patients will soon discover -- how much good $10 million can do.

"It's like moving to a new hospital for us," said Sherry Eldridge, senior director of nursing for the 460-bed Catholic hospital.

The new building is designed to help St. Joseph deal better with patients who must move in and out of the hospital quickly, largely because of pressure from Medicare and other insurers that are trying to keep health care costs down.

Ten years ago, 65 percent of St. Joseph's surgical patients were admitted for overnight stays. Now, 54 percent of surgery at the hospital is done on an out-patient basis, and that figure is lower than the national average, Ms. Eldridge said.

"Out-patient surgery has been growing by leaps and bounds," she said. Both reimbursement policies and new, less traumatic surgical techniques that make lengthy recuperation less necessary are driving the trend.

But there's another goal as well. St. Joseph officials said their facilities have been good enough to make patients better but not good enough to make them and their families comfortable.

For example, bigger preoperative and postoperative rooms will give patients more privacy, and the new surgical waiting area will mean that families won't have to wait for word in a hallway, said Lori Vidil, hospital spokeswoman.

"It's much larger and more soothing," she said.

The new building adds eight operating rooms, although six operating rooms in the older building will be closed when the new ones open, Ms. Vidil said. But there are other changes unrelated to surgery.

The new building will also have a digestive disease clinic, a new preadmission testing center that will reduce the shuttling of patients between departments for tests, a multitherapy center for services such as chemotherapy and blood transfusions, and new space for departments such as pathology and cytology.

The facility will open weeks before the nearby Greater Baltimore Medical Center is to open a new building of its own in November. GBMC's new building, begun last year as part of a $100 million expansion, will make room for improved programs in obstetrics, coronary care and intensive care.

St. Joseph's 72,000-square-foot South Building is part of a $25 million redevelopment program, said John Ellis, the hospital's chief financial officer. The hospital is announcing a $10 million fund-raising drive for part of the money -- including $5 million St. Joseph has already raised. The rest will be raised by profits on the hospital's operations over three years, Mr. Ellis said.

Sharon Dorn, senior vice president of the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation, said much of the first $5 million raised came from local companies, although the biggest check was a $1 million donation from James Keelty Jr. and Louise Keelty of Timonium.

The other $5 million will be raised primarily from small- to mid-sized businesses and foundations, she said, as well as civic leaders and individuals.

"Maybe there's another million-dollar grateful patient out there," Ms. Dorn said.

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