Franklin Square Hospital to expand


Joining in a spate of hospital construction, Franklin Square Hospital Center in the White Marsh area is moving ahead with a $225 million project that will include a five-story patient tower, to be completed in 2010, that will replace more than 80 percent of the rooms in the current hospital.

The project will add 37 beds to the hospital's licensed capacity of 353 and will expand the intensive care and emergency departments.

Carl J. Schindelar, president of the hospital, said yesterday that emergency room visits have jumped 75 percent in the six years he's been on the job.

Last year, Franklin Square handled 98,000 ER visits, prompting the hospital to put stretchers in a hallway to accommodate patients. The hospital was built in 1969, and the emergency room was last expanded in 1991.

Franklin Square is the latest hospital to win state approval for a building project. In all, the state has approved $3.3 billion in construction plans over the past five years - nearly four times as much as the $885 million approved in the five years from 1996 to 2001, said Pamela Barclay, deputy director for health resources at the Maryland Health Care Commission.

The trend isn't limited to Maryland. The U.S. Census Bureau logged $17.9 billion worth of hospital construction nationally in 2005.

After a dip in the late 1990s, spending on hospital building has risen sharply; last year's total was up 88.6 percent from $9.5 billion in 1999.

The burst of hospital construction is an echo boom of sorts. The last major spike in hospital construction came in the 1960s and 1970s, spurred by suburban growth and the availability of federal construction aid.

Now, like Franklin Square, many of those facilities are being replaced. Mercy Medical Center and St. Agnes Hospital announced plans last year for new patient towers to replace much of their main hospitals, built in the same period as Franklin Square.

"We reviewed a very small number of projects through the '90s," Barclay said. "Money was not as available, because interest rates were higher, and [patient] utilization was flat or declining."

In addition to lower interest rates, state regulators have approved larger increases in hospital rates over the past few years, allowing hospitals to generate the cash to help pay for building projects.

Johns Hopkins Hospital has a billion-dollar project under way which includes two high-rise patient towers.

Last year, the Health Care Commission approved replacement hospitals for $323 million in Cumberland and $235 million in Hagerstown, as well as expansions including $210 million at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, $124 million at Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie and $85 million at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia.

Smaller expansions, largely to expand operating room capacity, were greenlighted for $47 million at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, and $15 million at Sinai Hospital and $9.8 million at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, both in Baltimore.

This year, in addition to the Franklin Square project, the commission approved a $27 million expansion at Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster, and is reviewing two hefty downtown Baltimore projects: a $110 million patient tower for Mercy and a $200 million outpatient facility for University of Maryland Medical Center.

Barclay said many of the projects have several features in common - a shift from semiprivate to private rooms (which provide better infection control and are more popular with patients), expanded emergency departments, more and larger operating rooms (to accommodate an increase in surgical cases and allow room for more technology), expanded intensive care areas and additional parking.

Some of the projects add beds, but many do not. Barclay said health planners project a need for 53 additional beds in Baltimore County (above the current 1,035); only Franklin Square has applied to add beds in the county.

Franklin Square's project will include a four-story parking deck. Schindelar said the patient tower would be built on an existing parking lot, so the hospital needs to replace those spaces and add more. It will increase the number of intensive care beds from the current 28 - divided between two separate units - to 50.

Schindelar said the project will be financed with $10 million in fundraising, $150 million in bonds and cash for the balance from the operations of MedStar Health, Franklin Square's parent.

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