VALPARAISO | As a former volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, Liberty Township resident Tim Chelf wanted to help out or at least watch the massive effort Saturday of moving patients from the old Porter hospital in Valparaiso to the new building at Ind. 49 and U.S. 6.
He ended up closer to the action than expected.
Chelf under went emergency surgery early Friday and wound up among the 95 patients transported by 35 ambulances in a highly-coordinated effort that began on time at 6 a.m. and ended sooner than expected a few hours later.
Porter Health Care System CEO Jonathan Nalli gave an OK sign as he watched in the dawn darkness as ambulances from Porter hospital, and Superior and Prompt ambulance services began lining up outside doors on the north and west sides of the 73-year-old hospital at 814 LaPorte Ave.
As individuals wrapped in white bedding were loaded into the awaiting ambulances on gurneys, Nalli explained the most critical patients were to be moved first.
Chelf was preparing to leave his room at 7:15 a.m. after a sticker was placed on his gown identifying his new room number. He said he passed through four checkpoints while leaving the old hospital and another three at the new site. He said he was born at the old hospital and under went one of the final surgeries there, and will celebrate his 54th birthday Sunday at the new building.
During the short trip between hospitals, Chelf said he was moved to see members of his former Liberty Township Volunteer Fire Department stationed at Ind. 49 and County Road 600 North prepared to respond to any problems with the patient transfer.
"It made me feel good it was there," he said, enjoying the improvement of all private rooms at the new hospital.
Valparaiso resident Sherry Beoughter was among the employees who walked away from the old hospital for a final time Saturday morning.
"It's very exciting to go to the new place," Beoughter, a respiratory therapist, said.
Beoughter said leaving the old hospital -- where she worked for seven years -- made her sad when she thought of all her family members who have been treated there.
Cricket Weber, who lives directly north of the now-former hospital in a small white house nearly surrounded by medical offices, said it is going to be strange not having all the activity across the street and even stranger once the hospital is torn down and she can see straight across to the Valparaiso University campus.
"It's convenient to visit people," she said of one of the perks of living so close to a hospital.
Caffeine was clearly on the minds of those taking part in the early morning move. They wiped out the coffee supply and grabbed other energy-enhancing drinks from the nearby 7-Eleven store.
"Anything to give them energy I guess," store clerk Joel Lilley said.
As the ambulances loaded patients Saturday, other crews were busy covering hospital signs in the area with a message about the move and the address of the new facility.