Health care organizations in Northwest Indiana continued forming and seeking partnerships this year, continuing a trend from 2017, as Region hospital systems kept building new facilities.
As one of the partnerships, Franciscan Alliance teamed up with Northwest Memorial Hospital to bring neurology services to Northwest Indiana.
Dr. Kevin Jackson, a Northwestern Medicine neurosurgeon, now is practicing at Franciscan Health hospital in Crown Point, while Northwestern telestroke services will be offered at the Franciscan campuses in Crown Point, Dyer, Hammond and Munster.
In addition, Methodist Hospitals finalized a deal to have heart-and-lung surgery staff from University of Chicago Medicine join Methodist's Heart and Vascular Institute.
Dr. Daniel Ciaburri started at Methodist on Aug. 1. He is a cardiothoracic surgeon specializing in open heart surgery, thoracic surgery, valve replacement, aneurysm and dissection repair as well as treatment of arrhythmia and coronary artery disease.
These partnerships continue a trend from 2017, when Franciscan joined forces with Rush University Medical Center on orthopedic surgery, and Community Healthcare System started working with Rush on stroke care and University of Chicago Medicine on OB-GYN services.
And even though Franciscan and Methodist, Northwest Indiana's second- and third-largest hospital systems, ended their merger talks in early 2018, Methodist continued exploring alliances with other health care entities.
"We looked at the suspension of our discussion with Franciscan really as an opportunity for us to reassess our business strategy," Methodist President and CEO Ray Grady said. "We also know and feel quite strongly that in the long run we'd best serve our community to join forces with a larger system to give us the resources we need to meet the challenges of the new health care environment."
Grady said partnering with a larger entity would give Methodist better access to capital, improved physician recruitment and a more favorable negotiating position with doctor groups.
The arrangements Methodist has been examining include "comanagement agreements" with physician groups and so-called clinical joint ventures with other health care systems.
The hospital system is working with an outside vendor to provide telepsychiatry services because of the lack of psychiatrists in the Region.
Additionally, Methodist is partnering with its pharmacy vendor to offer pharmacy services to patients at the Northlake Campus in Gary who aren't admitted to the hospital, and allying with a company to recommission Methodist's Gamma Knife, a radiosurgery tool used to treat complex brain conditions.
Grady didn't rule out the possibility of discussions with Franciscan being revisited.
"I think anything's possible with anybody," he said.
Building boom keeps going
In 2018, local hospital systems also continued what has been a years-long building boom.
Franciscan Alliance announced it was partnering with South Bend-based Beacon Health System to construct a new hospital in LaPorte.
The $21.6 million Franciscan Beacon hospital will include a 10-bed emergency room, eight inpatient beds, laboratory services and telemedicine capabilities, as well as imaging and diagnostic equipment.
"This is going to be an incredible, high-quality option for hospital services and outpatient imaging in LaPorte County," said Dean Mazzoni, president and CEO of Franciscan Health hospital in Michigan City.
The hospital will be located at the current Beacon Medical Group site at 900 I St., near LaPorte High School. The project, which is being built by Franciscan-owned contractor Tonn & Blank, will add 28,000 square feet of new construction while renovating 19,000 square feet at that facility.
Franciscan also unveiled its new $50 million cancer center this year at Franciscan Health hospital in Munster.
The resources include radiation oncology treatment with two linear accelerators for radiation and oncology lab services, medical oncology infusion therapy with a 24-bay infusion center for chemotherapy, a full-service breast center with mammography screenings and bone density testing, and a retail center with apparel designed for cancer patients.
The center also has four state-of-the-art endoscopy suites, a pharmacy, a 50-person waiting area and physician suites.
"We can minimize any kind of damage to surrounding tissues around the cancerous tumor," said Sister Aline Shultz, the hospital's chief operating officer. "That's only something you could previously find in Chicago."
Dr. Rowland Mbaoma, a Franciscan oncologist, said the cancer center was the first in Northwest Indiana with automated breast ultrasound screenings, or ABUS.
He noted that women with dense breast tissue are four to six times more likely to develop breast cancer compared to those with normal breast tissue.
"A regular mammogram can miss up to one-third of breast cancer in women with dense breasts," he said. "Using ABUS, we reduce false-negative rates."
Franciscan Health Michigan City put the finishing touches on a $242 million hospital at an 86-acre site at Interstate 94 and Ind. 421 that will have 130 patient rooms.
Mazzoni said it was designed to eliminate inefficiencies found in too many older hospitals that present a maze-like arrangement to visitors because of repeated renovations and additions.
"The new hospital will let patients and visitors move more easily from point A to point B. We will locate outpatients to (a) more accessible area," Mazzoni said.
He said in addition to new clinical equipment, there will be electronic patient room signs and tablets on the wall containing patient medical records, as well as interactive televisions that will feature no-smoking messages for pulmonary patients or post-surgery care videos.
New building in three counties
LaPorte Hospital also broke ground on a new $125 million facility this year, next to the current one, at 1007 Lincoln Way.
Expected to open in 2020, the 200,000-square-foot hospital was promised as part of LaPorte Hospital's sale from Indiana University Health to Community Health Systems, a for-profit hospital chain headquartered in Tennessee, in March 2016. The current hospital was constructed in 1982.
The new facility, which will offer the same services as the current one and have space for future growth, is part of a $140 million investment from Community Health Systems.
Community Stroke and Rehabilitation Center, a new addition to Munster-based Community Healthcare System, is under construction at 10215 Broadway in Crown Point. The four-story, 129,000-square-foot multi-specialty facility will feature 40 private inpatient rooms, along with physician practices, outpatient services and immediate care for family health and wellness. The facility is scheduled to be finished in spring 2019.
Community Healthcare System also opened the St. Mary Medical Center South Valparaiso Immediate Care to provide convenient health and wellness services in Valparaiso.
Psychiatric hospital comes to Crown Point
The largest psychiatric hospital in the Region got ready to open in 2018.
NeuroBehavioral Hospital is located at 9330 Broadway in Crown Point.
"The difference with this facility is we can treat patients who are medically unstable," hospital CEO Regina Beard said. "We can treat medical symptoms along with psychiatric symptoms, which is very rare."
The 70-bed hospital takes care of psychiatric patients with comorbidities, such as heart disease and hypertension. Normally, mental health wards don't treat complex medical issues, and the patients have to stay on the medical floor until those conditions are stabilized, Beard said.
Parent company NeuroPsychiatric Hospitals, a for-profit entity based in South Bend, owns four of the five similar hospitals like this in the U.S. (the other is at UCLA.) This is the company's largest. The original is in Bremen.
The hospital largely cares for elderly patients, as they are more likely than their younger counterparts to have concurrent psychiatric and medical problems. The facility expects to get many of its patients from nursing, assisted-living and group homes, as well as some from local acute-care hospitals.
The hospital takes care of patients with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, though not people who are detoxing. There is a unit specifically for patients with autism and other developmental disorders. The facility also offers physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Methodist, Porter, oncology care expand
Also in 2018, Methodist Hospitals opened a renovated labor and delivery unit at its Southlake Campus in Merrillville.
The $3.6 million project includes six suites and six postpartum rooms with private bathrooms and showers, as well as lactation rooms and updated technology.
The newly named Maternal Infant Care Center was demolished and then rebuilt by project engineer Stantec of Chicago and contractor Berglund Construction of Chicago.
The space also has new outpatient testing, an advanced security system, two nursing stations, a sleep room for physicians, and a renovated solarium waiting area and a family waiting area with new seating, complimentary coffee and microwave.
The suites have new furniture, flooring, sleeper sofas and chairs. The postpartum rooms are connected to nursing rooms so mothers can bond with and breastfeed their babies.
Northwest Oncology, one of the largest independent oncology practices in the Region, opened a $10 million, 30,000-square-foot cancer center this year in Dyer.
Dr. Mohamad Kassar, president of the medical practice, said it provides the latest advances and more individualized cancer care for each patient as well as integrated medicine.
Porter Regional Hospital started offering new services such as PET/CT scanning and aortic valve replacement without the need of open heart surgery.
That hospital also became the first hospital in the nation to earn an accreditation for its treatment of atrial fibrillation.
Porter was accredited by the American College of Cardiology as a Version 3 provider of atrial fibrillation with electrophysiology services, the highest level ever awarded.
"I never thought I would be part of the first center in the nation to do something," said Dr. Hector Marchand, then-director of the atrial fibrillation program at Porter Regional. "This is a very unique thing for this hospital — that a relatively small hospital with relatively limited resources did the work that we did."
Times staff writers Bill Dolan and Dylan Wallace contributed to this report.