Hospital grows up

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Washington Medical Center has nearly doubled its size with the completion of a $117 million expansion that will accommodate more critical care patients and increase space for its outpatient services, at a time when the hospital has seen an increase in the demand for health care.

And as part of the expansion, for the first time since the 1960s the hospital will be a designated birthing center. A labor and delivery unit is expected to open in the fall.

(Although the hospital doesn't currently have a delivery unit, about 20 to 25 women give birth each year at the hospital through its emergency department, according to hospital officials.)

"This isn't a small community hospital anymore here in Glen Burnie," said Kathy McCollum, the vice president for business development at the hospital. "This is a modern, significant health care center, and that's the kind of care you can expect to get here.

"It's a very visible sign of what this organization has become."

The hospital, which will open to patients next week, will conduct a community open house, with tours, free health screenings, refreshments and giveaways, including two free Southwest Airlines tickets, on Jan. 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. It will open to patients the next day.

The new eight-story tower, which adjoins the current facility, will allow for expanded capacity for the hospital's most critically ill patients. It will also house its outpatient services: the Sleep Center, the Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine Center and the Outpatient Infusion Center.

The building has a glass-lined lobby with pedestrian access from the parking garage, 111 private rooms with wireless access and bathrooms, and a 24-bed critical care unit. The two top floors of the tower are vacant and will be used for possible expansion.

The hospital expects to add 125 jobs to its roster as a result of the expansion, which will result in $6.2 million in salaries annually, said Allison Eatough, a hospital spokeswoman. The jobs will include 35 to 40 nurses, as well as patient care and administrative technicians, pharmacists and environmental services staff.

The expansion was funded through the hospital's operating budget, bond financing and $12 million in private donations.

"The upgrades are just phenomenal," said Bruce Seeley, director of facility engineering at the hospital. "The staff are just elated at how pretty it is, how spacious, how private.

Seeley, on a recent tour of the new building, pointed to some of the new features and amenities: a pre-care check-in area with private information booths, patient medical lifts, rubber flooring for nurses' comfort, additional nurses' stations in the critical care unit and bamboo paneling.

The hospital also added a chapel that, Seeley said, "is four times the size" of the current one.

The expansion project broke ground in early 2006 and includes an already completed 15,000-square-foot emergency department addition, a new courtyard, cafe and gift shop.

The hospital, which opened its doors in 1965, has seen an uptick in demand for care, just like many other medical centers in the region. In 2004, for example, the hospital's emergency department treated nearly 80,000 patients. In the past fiscal year, which ended June 30, it treated 93,000 emergency patients.

"We were running out of room, quite honestly," McCollum said.

Susan Ward, a vice president at the hospital, said the hospital has had some other major expansions in the past: in the early 1970s, it added a major bed tower, and in 1989, it added several critical care beds and support staff space.

This expansion is the largest, she said, and boasts a significant addition of private rooms, which not only is pleasing to patients for comfort and privacy reasons, but also helps to ensure infection control.

Carol Diachenko, a nurse who has worked at the hospital for 10 years, supervises the fifth floor of the medical surgical unit, which currently can house 44 patients. With beds from the new unit, that size will grow to 74.

Pointing to a list of patients on a wipe board, Diachenko said. "There was just one discharge on there, and within a few minutes, my pager will go off."

She said the private rooms and more space will be a welcome change from the cramped quarters that both patients and staff now endure.

"The hallways are wider, the bathrooms are bigger," Diachenko said. "There will be plenty of room for the patients to move around, and their visitors will have plenty of space. We're excited."

"A lot of what we do is make sure patients are comfortable and happy in the hospital, so privacy is an important issue," she said. "To be able to have a private room is just going to mean the world."

Fay Carter, who has worked as a nurse at the hospital for two years, said she is looking forward to both the larger space and the new equipment.

"It's just so hard to keep track of two patients," she said. "The rooms will be a little larger, so we'll have a bigger space to get our equipment in."

A lot of the excitement with the expansion involves bringing back infants, hospital officials said. "We're very eager to deliver babies," McCollum said. "People expect their community hospital to deliver babies."

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