LIBERTY TOWNSHIP | The sign is lit and the doors are open at the new Porter Regional Hospital, 85 E. U.S. 6.
The hospital began accepting patients at 6 a.m. Saturday, the same time its former facility, 814 LaPorte Ave., Valparaiso, closed.
At 8:09 a.m., the first ambulance with lights flashing and siren blaring brought an emergency patient to the new hospital. About a half hour later, a man pulled up with a woman in labor.
Ambulances transferred 95 patients from the 73-year-old hospital to the new one in about half the time hospital officials anticipated.
The move was expected to take up to eight hours. The first ambulance arrived at the new hospital at 6:27 a.m. The last transferred patient was admitted at 10:45 a.m.
Porter Health Care System CEO Jonathan Nalli attributed the speed and smooth transition to 18 months of preparation and to the cooperation among the partnering agencies.
The 35 ambulances followed a prescribed path, taking an estimated 15 minutes for each one-way trip north on Ind. 49.
"The traffic flow in and around Valparaiso has not been impeded at all," Nalli said.
No major incidents occurred, and the problems that came up were resolved in a matter of minutes, he said.
When a radio did not work, another one was pulled from a nearby bank of radios. A phone with a drained battery was replaced. A piece of necessary equipment that was not scheduled with the move was added to a supply truck.
Multiple backup plans had been created in the event of accidents, bad weather or disasters. But the day moved smoothly.
Ambulances transferring patients traveled at normal speeds, without lights or sirens. Transportation workers controlled the signals so red lights would not hamper the move.
Everything moved like a well-oiled machine, said Karen Keltner, manager of marketing and communications for the hospital.
Nalli described the command center as "communicative" without chaos.
The mood among staff at the old hospital was energetic. People took pictures, signed the walls and toasted with their coffee and soft drinks, he said.
With 18 months of planning invested in the move, it was completed three months ahead of schedule. Initially, hospital officials expected to open around Thanksgiving, Keltner said.
The transition process cost about $1 million, Nalli said.
The next step is to conduct a clean sweep of the hospital.
Then large pieces of equipment from the old hospital will be auctioned through a Chicago auction house. Smaller items, such as chairs and lamps, will be available to hospital employees for purchase, then the public. Remaining items will go to nonprofits that partner with the hospital, Nalli said.
The property was sold to Valparaiso University, and the hospital is responsible for razing the building and making the land shovel-ready for any new construction, Keltner said.