MICHIGAN CITY — The marathon began in July 2015, when Franciscan Health announced a plan to build a new hospital at the corner of Interstate 94 and U.S. 421. Now three years later, the race is nearing completion.

“The building was successfully enclosed at the end of December,” said Dean Mazzoni, president and CEO. “All remaining work is now inside, and weather will not be a factor in reaching our completion date.”

The scope of the original plan changed in late summer-early fall. As the facility expanded in size and capability, the original cost estimate of $180 million rose to $242 million, and the 108-inpatient bed design grew to 130. The completion date was modified accordingly.

“We decided to create a larger and more efficient facility,” Mazzoni explained. “Our design is patient-centric, and we concluded that we needed more space. All construction will be complete at the end of October, and we will receive a temporary certificate of occupancy on Nov. 4, 2018.”

With the temporary certificate, Franciscan will begin an intense training and orientation program for its employees, some who are new and some who transferred from the existing downtown facility on Homer Street.

“The plan is to receive the permanent certificate of occupancy on Dec. 14,” Mazzoni continued. “At that point, we will finalize training of our staff. We want to ensure the safety and comfort of our patients, so we incorporated a detailed training/orientation plan into our modifications.”

The transition plan

Mazzoni said the plan is to transfer all patients from the current hospital to the new one on Jan. 12, 2019. The transfer will take place in one day. Franciscan has met with local police, EMS, ambulance services to coordinate the move.

“We meet weekly to fine-tune the transfer plan and review various scenarios,” Mazzoni said. “We obviously don’t know how many patients we will transfer or their condition, so we have to prepare for every situation.”

As of Jan. 12, 2019, the new hospital will be open for business to all clients.

The plan modification will result in a much smoother workflow, according to Trish Weber, vice president of operations and chief nursing officer.

“We increased the size of the operating rooms and incorporated fully integrated technology into patient monitoring,” she said. “It’s all driven by patient safety. For example, each gurney will contain a chip that has the information we will use to verify the right patient is in the right room for the proper procedure. We will also use PIIC iX, a central monitoring system that provides easy access to patient records and information as well as current stats such as blood pressure and heart rate.”

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The new hospital will also have a state-of-the-art MRI and imaging department, a cardiac catheter facility, and a da Vinci robotic surgical system. A 10-bed observation department will allow the staff to observe new patients for 24 hours before deciding if they need admission or out-patient treatment.

“The emphasis today is on ambulatory care when possible,” Weber said. “But we frequently need time to make the proper diagnosis. The observation area will give us a standard 24 hours to determine the best course of action for the patient. Again, it’s all about patient safety.”

Weber explained that the new hospital utilizes a stackable design to minimize patient and caregiver discomfort by eliminating long distances between treatment areas. With five stories, separate inpatient and outpatient entrances, and a distinct emergency room entrance, the workflow and movement should be smoother and simpler.

“In older hospital designs, where things are spread out, many patients and caregivers are exhausted by the time they go from one area to the next,” Weber said. “We minimized that stress with this design.”

Looking ahead

Of the 84 acres at the new site, 41 are a protected wetland, Mazzoni said. Franciscan plans to create walking trails to benefit patients and employees.

“We are partnering with the Shirley Heinz Land Trust to design a gentle, healthy walking trail with rest stations,” he said. “The land will remain pristine, yet we will benefit our staff and patients with flora and fauna.”

There will still be enough usable land to build four medical buildings on an as-needed basis, Mazzoni said. “Health care is in transition,” he said. “As we encounter the need for expansion, or physician offices, we’ll have the ability to add on.”

The existing downtown hospital will be transformed into a 34-bed rehabilitation and behavioral facility. The ER will be replaced by an urgent care department. Physical rehabilitation from surgery or stroke will be available for adults. The behavioral health facility will deal with issues such as depression, anxiety and similar disorders.

“We may also create a multipurpose facility,” Mazzoni said. “We are having discussions with several local businesses who are interested in the location and the layout. This part of the plan is still a work in progress.”

The project continues a building boom for Franciscan Health, which is putting up a $46 million cancer center at its hospital in Munster, where it constructed a $70 million emergency department in 2015.