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.