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Maine hospital lowers costs by design

Should a health system build a new hospital, or upgrade an existing facility?

Ten years ago, executives at MaineGeneral Health, a rural healthcare system consisting of several acute care hospitals, physician practices, outpatient facilities and homecare services in central Maine, knew they had a decision to make regarding two of their facilities: they could upgrade their buildings or start from scratch.

Ultimately, the health system's leadership decided to build a brand-new facility in a new location central to both of the facilities it would replace. The buildings of both MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer campus in Waterville and the East Chestnut Street Hospital in Augusta, would be combined into one larger hospital.

 

 

Chuck Hays, president and CEO of MaineGeneral Health, said the new hospital will be more cost-efficient for the region in the long-term due to energy-saving design elements and able to support a growing population with changing needs for many years to come. The new construction came at a relative bargain, as MaineGeneral would have spent $100 million to just to maintain its older facilities, let alone upgrade them.

 

[See also: New hospitals in the Big Easy: City wants to build two, but community resistance is strong]

Six years later, a general design for the new hospital, the Alfond Center for Health, had been planned, and fundraising efforts and planning were underway.

“It became evident that this was the right thing to do – to regionalize all inpatient care here,” said Hays.

Hays explained that the funding of the new Alfond Center for Health, which cost a total of $322 million from start to finish, came partially from a $35 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, a local family foundation aimed at supporting Maine communities since 1950, in addition to $12 million raised from the community.

In November 2013, the 192-bed Alfond Center for Health opened its doors to patients, their families and the community for the first time, seven months ahead of schedule. From the outside, the 640,000-square-foot hospital looks like an upscale hotel, complete with a flowing stream, waterfall fountain and perfectly-manicured gardens. On the inside, the hallways and private patient rooms are lined with floor-to-ceiling windows providing complete natural lighting. Visitor and patient hallways are separated from employee hallways, creating a more pleasant and private environment for everyone, said Paul Stein, chief operating officer of MaineGeneral Health and the hospital’s “point person” for design and construction of the new building.

Stein and his team of 250 staffers were involved in the entire design process from start to finish. They toured new hospital facilities across the country prior to designing the new facility in order to gain insight on the best features to include and determine the design elements most important to patients and their safety. Some of the Alfond Center’s best design elements include all private patient rooms, including private rooms for procedure prep and recovery, as well as emergency department visitors, and special features such as a community kitchen to hold healthy cooking classes for both patients and the community.

“We also had design input from our patient advisory committee – people in the community who had used our services before,” said Stein. “We had one chance to get it right, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

[See also: New hospital opens in western Maryland]

Hays said the Alfond Center for Health will become at least Silver LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for sustainable designs, green building materials and energy-efficient systems. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the accepted benchmark for sustainable building practices in renovating existing facilities or building new ones. Using a stringent rating system, the USGBC certifies projects Silver, Gold or Platinum. Hays added that the new hospital may have enough points for Gold-certification but will not know for sure until their application has been reviewed, a process that begins after a facility has been built.

Hays said the Alfond Center boasts highly efficient heating and cooling systems, renewable energy sources where feasible, and all building materials came from local sources.

“We’ve done everything from using ice makers that make ice at night when electricity is cheaper, and then using it for air conditioning during the day, to collecting rainwater off the roof to use for the heating system,” said Hays.

While it costs slightly more to design a building as “green” and more energy-efficient, Hays said the payback is more than worth the extra costs upfront, and greatly reduces the facility’s environmental impact. The efficient design elements of the new hospital will ultimately save $900,000 in annual operating costs and 12 million gallons of water a year, Hays estimates.

[See also: Maine hospital files application for new $322M inpatient regional facility]

According to Michael Koziol, senior vice president and CFO of MaineGeneral Health, another benefit to having a new, state-of-the-art facility that combines the inpatient services of several different hospitals close to 20 miles apart from one another is that recruitment of quality physicians becomes much easier.

“Here, everything is centralized. Renovated existing buildings wouldn’t have gotten the quality of life for physicians,” he said. “It’s easier and more convenient for physicians to get to one facility. It’s helped us quite a bit as far as recruitment goes.”

Indeed, in the last year alone, MaineGeneral was able to recruit 37 new physicians, not an easy task for a rural healthcare system.

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