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Building activity soars at hospitals around county

A frenzy of construction swept through Baltimore County hospitals last year.

It brought new facades, bigger buildings and, in particular, new emergency rooms, as the county kept pace with state and national building trends.

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From Greater Baltimore Medical Center's new adult and pediatric emergency department to Sheppard Pratt Health System's mammoth $93 million expansion, construction soared and will continue to for several more years, hospital administrators said.

Last year, hospitals nationwide spent more than $14.9 billion to improve facilities, U.S. Department of Commerce figures show. According to a 2003 report by the state Health Care Commission, Maryland is expected to spend more than $126 million on emergency rooms between 1997 and the end of this year.

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Emergency rooms are one of the state's greatest areas of need. Many hospitals also focused on building decontamination units to deal with bioterror threats.

Last month, GBMC opened its new adult and pediatric emergency department, part of a $43 million renovation campaign that includes an intensive care unit and an expanded surgical area. The hospital's goal, in part, is to become a major pediatric emergency center.

The improvements were part of a "strategic imperative" as emergency room visits increased about 33 percent between 1996 and 2001, said John Wogan, chairman of the department of emergency medicine.

At the same time, following national trends, children's hospital admissions dropped.

So GBMC designed a new streamlined department with four areas - pediatric, observation, and low- and high-acuity - built around a radiological equipment center, Wogan said.

GBMC, which sees more than 10,000 children each year, intends to become a regional center for pediatric emergencies, said Timothy Doran, chairman of the department of pediatrics.

To improve efficiency, it consolidated its pediatric units, in a model similar to Howard County General Hospital in Columbia. Its eight inpatient pediatric beds are now across the hall from its five children's emergency beds in the new building. The move decreases admission time and aims to help retain highly qualified pediatric nursing staff, Doran said.

GBMC also plans to upgrade its technology so that admissions or evaluations will occur in patients' rooms, and staff will be able to track the speed of visits and tests.

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In January, Franklin Square Hospital Center in eastern Baltimore County opened the county's first pediatric emergency department. Almost 20,000 children are expected to go through the $550,000 facility each year.

Franklin Square also consolidated its children's inpatient and emergency services to improve care and reduce stress associated with hospital visits, said spokeswoman Kellie Knight.

"Kids see the same faces, the same techs, the same nurses. They are not shuttled around the hospital," she said.

Northwest Hospital Center in Randallstown, which opened its new emergency room in June 2002, plans to spend more than $10 million on general improvements over the next several years, said President and CEO Erik Wexler. Northwest, part of the LifeBridge Health system, is in the early stages of revising its strategy, he said.

Johns Hopkins at White Marsh, a 50,000-square-foot suburban offshoot of the venerated Baltimore hospital, has begun doubling its size.

Built in 2000, it is designed to offer patients in the county's northeast corridor "one-stop shopping" for Hopkins-quality care, hospital spokesmen said.

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The outpatient center provides basic doctor and testing services, as well as 15 specialties, including ophthalmology, cardiology and obstetrics.

The $5.8 million White Marsh expansion will add pediatrics, internal medicine, orthopedics and rehabilitation therapy to its offerings.

According to hospital spokesman Gary Stephenson, demand is booming.

In November, St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson opened its 70,000-square-foot Orthopaedic Institute Inpatient Facility, a 50-bed unit on the sixth floor of the medical center.

Renowned for its heart care, St. Joseph also performs more than 4,500 orthopedic surgeries each year and is a leading joint-replacement center in Maryland.

The $6.2 million orthopedic center includes an expanded rehabilitation gym, a solarium and living rooms.

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In one of the county's largest projects, Sheppard Pratt plans to open its 240,000-square-foot hospital complex and renovate the century-old buildings on its Towson campus. The project is estimated to cost $93 million.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking for us," said spokeswoman Bonnie B. Katz.

Area hospitals

Franklin Square Hospital Center 9000 Franklin Square Drive Baltimore 21237-3998 443-777-7000

Greater Baltimore Medical Center 6701 N. Charles St. Baltimore 21204 443-849-2000

Johns Hopkins at White Marsh 4924 Campbell Blvd. Baltimore 21236 443-442-3400

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Northwest Hospital Center 5401 Old Court Road Randallstown 21133 410-521-2200

Sheppard Pratt Health System 6501 N. Charles St. Baltimore 21204 410-938-3000

St. Joseph Medical Center 7601 Osler Drive Towson 21204-7582 410-337-1000


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