Howard County General Hospital is to announce soon the biggest building project in the hospital's 27-year history, a $20 million addition that will triple the capacity of its emergency department.
The three-story, 65,927-square-foot addition is intended to improve services in an emergency room that one hospital official described as "bursting at the seams."
The $20 million price tag, listed on a Howard County building permit application filed last week, is an estimate of construction costs. It does not include the cost of outfitting the addition with beds and equipment.
Officials at the 233-bed hospital declined to provide further details, such as a timetable for construction. They said they are waiting to make a formal announcement.
But speaking generally about the expansion, officials said it would not have been possible if the hospital had not merged two years ago with Johns Hopkins Medicine, which will also begin supervising the Columbia hospital's emergency department.
"This is the biggest initiative in the hospital's history, certainly from a dollars-and-cents standpoint," said Victor A. Broccolino, president and chief executive officer of Howard County General.
The expansion is part of the hospital's strategic plan, a $30 million to $50 million initiative to expand space and services. Howard County General could not have secured funding for its strategic plan if it hadn't merged with Hopkins, Broccolino said.
Burdened with debt and doubt about its future in a competitive industry, Howard County General sought a partner in the late 1990s. In March 1998, Johns Hopkins Medicine agreed to purchase the private, nonprofit hospital in a $142 million deal that included the assumption of $57 million of Howard County General's debt.
"One of the things that we realized very early on was the fact that the hospital, which was built starting about 25 years ago, really had begun to exhibit some real growth pains," Ronald R. Peterson, president of Johns Hopkins Health System and Johns Hopkins Hospital, said in an interview last week.
"One particular symptom of that was the fact that the emergency room was really bursting at the seams," he said.
The hospital plans "a very significant redesign and expansion of the emergency department, both in a physical sense and in leadership and programmatic sense," Peterson said.
As part of that plan, Peterson said, Howard County General's emergency room will be placed under the supervision of Dr. Gabor Kelen, chief of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins.
The Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning approved Howard County General's expansion plan in April.
A building permit application filed last week does not indicate when the hospital plans to break ground.
The plan review division of the Howard County Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits is expected to act on the permit - the final hurdle before construction can begin - in about a month, county staff members said.
An expanded emergency room is one of many improvements that Howard County General officials attribute to the merger with Hopkins.
With help from its partner, Howard County General has upgraded its neonatal intensive care unit. It has also added or enhanced infertility, pediatric cardiology and home-care services, among others.
The merger has also meant greater economies of scale for Howard County General because supplies and services are purchased through Hopkins, officials said. None of Howard County General's 1,200 employees lost their jobs in the deal.
"In this day and age, when not all hospital mergers and acquisitions have gone well, this is one where it's fair to say both parties are very pleased two years into it," Peterson said.