Firelands set to showcase new patient care center

Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



A new patient care facility is just what the doctor ordered.

On Thursday, Firelands Regional Medical Center announced the opening of its new five-story patient care tower.

"We call it the east wing, but it will really be the new core of the hospital," said Dr. Mark Schmiedl, Firelands co-chief of staff.

More than five years in the making, the East Tower came with a price tag of $147 million.

"The completion of this new tower allows Firelands to better meet the needs of our community by bringing the best technology to the area delivered by the most qualified medical and support staff," said Chuck Stark, president and CEO of Firelands Regional Medical Center.

The East Tower adds 182,000 square feet of space to the hospital along with 80 patient beds.

As the renovations were taking place, the hospital constructed mock patient rooms so doctors, nurses and other medical staff could offer suggestions and ideas about optimizing efficiency while giving patients the best care possible.

"This construction project has involved the collaboration of so many people," said Douglas Talkington, vice president of operations at Firelands.

Two hundred employees and physicians worked with more than 500 contractors to design and construct the building.

Instead of nursing stations at the center of the floor, nurses will work from individuals pods closer to the patient rooms. The new rooms also have pass-through cabinets that can be reached from the room and the hallway. This allows nurses to deliver supplies without entering the room or disturbing the patient.

New operating rooms feature flat-screen, high-definition television monitors and touch-screen display panels.

From state-of-the-art surgical suites and a new cardiac care unit to the Java City cafe and a 180-gallon saltwater aquarium, every detail of the new tower was designed with patient care in mind.

Lynne James is a barista at the hospital's Java City cafe, which will open May 4. James said it's the little things like a cup of coffee or a friendly gift shop that can make a hospital visit a little more pleasant.

"It brings a sense of normalcy to what they might be going through," James said.

The new tower also features one-of-a-kind artwork to create a calming atmosphere. In the emergency department waiting room, a mural of a serene Sandusky sunset covers an entire wall from floor to ceiling. The mural is an original by Keith Hasenbalg of Oregon, Ohio.

Thomas Long of Florida created a glass sculpture titled "Blue Wave" that adorns a wall of the new tower as well.

The parking garage can handle more than 500 cars and has a covered walkway that leads directly to the main entrance.

Stark credited an astute and conservative board with being able to keep the expansion from hiking the cost of patient care.

"The patient's bill did not go up one penny," Stark said.

With more 1,900 employees, Firelands is Sandusky's largest year-round employer.

"Many don't realize that Firelands is truly an economic engine for the city of Sandusky and the surrounding area," said William Springer, chairman of the board at Firelands. "We believe in the future of this area."

Firelands has more than 400 registered beds and a staff of more than 200 physicians and allied health professionals. The hospitals admits about 10,000 patients each year and provides more than 235,000 people with outpatient services. Firelands has about 700 births, 45,000 emergency room visits and performs about 9,000 surgeries annually.

At 8 a.m. on May 4, hospital staff will begin moving patients into the new tower.

On Thursday, the Erie County Commissioners authorized Firelands to borrow up to $20.5 million over five years to cover the cost of furnishing and equipping the East Tower.

The interest rate for the bonds will not exceed 3.77 percent. The hospital is taking advantage of low interest rates, explained Dan Moncher, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Firelands.

The commissioners' action is necessary to allow the hospital to issue tax free bonds, but the responsibility of repaying the debt is the hospital's, not the county's, explained Commissioner Tom Ferrell.

"We have no financial exposure," he said. "It just allows them to finance at a lower rate."

Register reporter Tom Jackson contributed to this story.

Want to go?

WHAT: Community Open House

WHEN: 1:30 - 4:30 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Firelands Regional Medical Center, East Tower

Firelands East Tower: By the numbers

* The new tower is 304 feet by 167 feet

* 182,000 square feet of space

* 13 surgical suites

* 80 additional patient beds

* 180-gallon saltwater aquarium

* 583 parking spaces in the parking garage

* 698 new doors

* 129 steps from the first floor to the rooftop