Hospital planning 9-story addition


Anne Arundel Medical Center, continuing its rapid growth since moving out of downtown Annapolis three years ago, announced yesterday a $200 million expansion that hospital officials say will add operating rooms, surgical beds and more outpatient space to its campus off U.S. 50.

A nine-story addition would be the centerpiece of the expansion, which would also include more parking on the campus, just outside Annapolis. The hospital would also add about 300 full-time workers to its staff of 1,695.

Hospital officials say the expansion - which they expect to pay for through a state-backed bond issue, private donations and the medical center's revenues - is a response to rising demand for service. They say the hospital gets about 70,000 patients a year, up from 59,000 annually before it moved from downtown Annapolis in 2001.

"Not since we planned the new hospital in the mid-1990s have we focused on such a strategic vision," said Martin L. Doordan, president of the Anne Arundel Health System. "We knew when we moved here there would be a need for expansion in the future. However, the future is now."

The proposed expansion illustrates how some suburban hospitals are racing to keep up with demand while some older city hospitals are struggling to stay afloat because of uninsured patients. The county's other major hospital, North Arundel, opened a $17 million cancer center in February last year.

Anne Arundel Medical Center officials said they have been surprised by the sharp rise in demand. "But we're always poised for growth," said Linda Ferris, vice president of strategic planning for the health system.

Ferris said the hospital is able to meet the current demand for services but needs to begin expanding now to make sure it can meet demand in five years.

"It takes such a long time to get beds on line," she said.

The medical center must obtain approval from the Maryland Health Care Commission to add beds. Ferris said she is submitting an application to the commission this week and expects the review to take about six months. She said she expects few problems because the state projects that the county will need as many as 149 more hospital beds by 2010.

The center moved from its longtime downtown home to its 103-acre campus near Annapolis Mall three years ago. The rise in demand that prompted that move is prompting hospital leaders to look for new ways to grow. They have spent much of the year discussing concepts for the planned expansion.

The Anne Arundel Health System, a nonprofit organization serving Anne Arundel and neighboring counties, hired medical development specialists to work on the proposal. Doordan said he hopes the expansion will help the center remain a first-class hospital for the next 20 to 25 years.

The nine-story addition to the main building would enable the 260-bed hospital to add 69 beds, including 51 surgical beds, and would accommodate expanded surgery, radiology and emergency departments. The expansion would increase from 18 to 26 the number of operating rooms at the hospital.

Doordan and Ferris said the expansion will address general needs and is not focused on creating programs, though it will allow space for such programs if the need arises. They said studies have found that demand for the hospital's services for children, pregnant women and the elderly will increase.

"A good part of it is the aging of the baby boomers," Doordan said. "You can just see what's coming over the next 20 to 25 years."

Ferris said projections show that the expansion can be achieved without increasing patient charges, though she said the hospital reserves the right to raise rates. Doordan said state-issued bonds will probably pay for the bulk of the project.

The nine-story addition and new parking garages would be built on the hospital's campus. Doordan said hospital officials will spend much of the next two years drafting more detailed plans and seeking state and county permits before soliciting construction bids. They hope work can begin in 2007 and be completed by 2010.

Parole activists, who have battled development in some other cases, have said they have no objections to an expanded medical center.

County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, whose district includes the medical center, said she is concerned about traffic in the surrounding area and wants the county to develop a plan to improve it. But she said that should not stop the hospital's expansion.

"They need it," she said. "From what they tell me, they're experiencing more demand than they ever expected."

Samorajczyk said she had seen the expansion plans and expects the hospital to be a "fabulous regional facility."

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