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EAST CHICAGO -- Calling it a "minor miracle," a group of hospital administrators and personnel gathered Thursday afternoon for the open house and blessing of the new rehabilitation center at St. Catherine Hospital.

Jo Ann Birdzell, hospital administrator, called it a miracle that the project took only 60 days to complete, from surveying the community to bringing the first patients in.

"After the Community Foundation took the hospital over, just days later, this project began," Birdzell said. "This project showed me the real commitment by the Community Foundation."

Construction on the new $1.6 million rehabilitation center at St. Catherine began after the East Chicago hospital was acquired by Community Foundation of Northwest Indiana Inc., which also owns and operates The Community Hospital in Munster and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart. Together, the three hospitals form Community Healthcare System, the region's largest health care provider.

The new rehabilitation center is an 18-bed, 11,815-square-foot rehabilitative care unit modeled after the rehabilitation center at The Community Hospital. The area was carved from a vacant wing of the hospital. The expansion at St. Catherine Hospital has resulted in 25 new jobs.

"The area was not being used. It was ready to be closed to save money on utilities," Birdzell said. "This hospital used to have 410 beds. It now has 190. That's a trend throughout the country as patients shift from inpatient to outpatient care and shorter hospitals stays. Hospitals just don't need as many beds."

The unit has 10 private rooms and eight semiprivate rooms. It offers service to patients who otherwise would have to travel outside their community for rehabilitative care.

Architects Carras-Szany-Kuhn & Associates in Crown Point and contractors Gough Construction of Merrillville were recognized for their speedy work on the project.

"There have already been a couple of friends and parishioners who were helped by this unit, restored in this place," Monsignor Joseph Semancik said. "The healing hands of Jesus are here, through the doctors, nurses and hospital personnel. We're here today to ask God to bless the work we do in this place."

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