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Bel Air hospital plans to expand


Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, with its modern brick-and-glass exterior and large windows in its open, airy lobby, feels more like an office complex than a hospital.

And just as a business expands, the five-year-old Bel Air hospital is preparing for a $40 million expansion to meet the needs of a growing county population, all while pledging to maintain a high quality of care.

"It was not a question of 'if,' but 'when' - and 'when,' has come very quickly," said Lyle E. Sheldon, president and chief executive of Upper Chesapeake Health, which runs UCMC and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace.

When work is completed in late 2007 or 2008, UCMC will have 170 beds, up from the current 136.

The expansion will include a three-story addition to the hospital's Patient Tower, 14 new treatment areas in its Emergency Department, five more delivery rooms, four new rooms and an expanded waiting area in its Surgical Pavilion and 300 additional parking spaces, among other changes.

The project will add 40,000 square feet to the hospital and renovate an existing 22,000 square feet, Sheldon said.

"This allows us to catch up with and stay ahead of the market share and population growth," he said.

Since the hospital's opening in October 2000, admissions have risen 28 percent; operating room use, 63 percent; emergency room visits, 72 percent; births, 83 percent; and outpatient visits, 300 percent, Sheldon said.

Plans for the expansion began more than a year ago with support of the UCMC's physicians, nurses and other employees, Sheldon said.

"Everyone recognizes the need is here," he said. "We're trying to better serve the community."

Harford Memorial, meanwhile, will undergo $8 million worth of renovations in its public and patient areas over the same period of time, Sheldon said, adding that the hospitals together see 85,000 patients yearly in their emergency rooms.

As the work gets under way, Kenneth D. Kozel, the newly appointed senior vice president and chief operating officer of Upper Chesapeake Health, has the task of ensuring that temporary entrances and parking problems do not hinder the hospital's day-to-day business.

"We need to make sure the quality of care we provide, regardless of any construction and renovation ... is exceeding the standards that the industry sets and that the patient expects," he said.

Kozel said he wants to ensure that medical care is available for those who cannot afford it and services are offered to the community that primary care physicians do not provide.

Kozel's biggest priority, however, is keeping Upper Chesapeake Health financially solvent while providing the best care possible.

The expansion will help Upper Chesapeake Medical Center reach that goal and meet the growing demand among Harford County residents.

"I'd really like to keep as much of the needs of our community from a health care perspective in our health care system," he said.

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