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Hospital plans $50 million expansion


Howard County General Hospital officials are planning a $50 million expansion that will increase capacity by 48 beds and provide a private room for every patient.

Victor A. Broccolino, hospital president and chief executive officer, said that building a new patient tower will be the cornerstone of the project, which would increase the hospital's capacity to 230 beds. Broccolino said the project should be completed in 3 1/2 to five years.

Plans are being drawn up now, and the time for completion of the project will depend upon how quickly the hospital can obtain financing.

Broccolino said that the hospital likely will borrow between $35 million to $40 million, with the rest coming from philanthropic contributions and the hospital's working capital.

Putting all of the hospital's 230 beds in private rooms is one of the expansion's major goals, Broccolino said. Placing patients in double rooms is becoming less desirable, and building the tower will provide more beds and enable the hospital to convert rooms in its older building to private rooms.

"It's important for a variety of reasons," Broccolino said. "Patients want private rooms for privacy's sake, and studies have shown that there's a lower risk of infection when you have a private room."

Broccolino said that there aren't always enough medical/surgical beds to accommodate patients and solving that problem will also be a priority.

Howard County General was built as a 59-bed, short-stay hospital in 1973. Over the years, its growth has mirrored that of Howard County.

"In order to continue to provide the best care for our community, we'll need to grow both in the number of beds we have available and the types of services we have to offer," said hospital spokeswoman Mary Patton. "It's a matter of keeping up [with] the need."

Today, the hospital has 182 beds and serves patients beyond the county's borders. Broccolino said Howard County General regularly treats patients from six other subdivisions: Baltimore, Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Carroll counties, as well as Baltimore City.

"Our service is bigger than just Howard County," Broccolino said. "It's Howard County, plus pieces of those other counties."

Dr. Harry Oken, the hospital's chairman of medicine, said the increased number of hospital beds will be crucial in the coming years.

"That will have ramifications on the entire system," Oken said.

Howard County General's lack of beds and busy emergency room often affect the amount of time it takes to get a patient into a room, Oken said. If the emergency room is slowed down, that limits how quickly a patient can get a bed.

The emergency room is usually packed during the afternoon and at night, resulting in long waits to be treated and moved into a room.

"If the emergency room wait decreases, it frees up space for more patients," Oken said. "It makes it easier to move patients to be admitted to the hospital."

Statistics showed that Howard County General provided services to more than 130,000 people during fiscal year 200s and admitted 13,905 patients. In addition, the hospital evaluated and treated 63,736 patients in the emergency room, a 10.4 percent increase over the fiscal 2002.

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