Hospital prepares to expand

Standing in front of Doctors Hospital, CEO Shayne George can see a new three-story tower rising and the lobby expanding. As he contemplates the $55 million renovation the hospital is about to start, he also sees a host of new patients coming to fill it.

The hospital will hold a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday to mark the start of the two-year renovation. The three-story tower added to the front of the building will hold a 24-bed ICU and 24 private rooms, along with space for education and outpatient treatment. It is not adding any beds to the 354 the hospital is licensed to have, but it is converting them to better uses.

"When the hospital was built, it was built essentially semiprivate, the whole place," Mr. George said. "We converted many beds to private."

That is going to be particularly important as the baby boomer population ages, he said.

"They're going to demand private rooms" and other amenities, Mr. George said. "That's a part of our strategy as the first steps in new private rooms."

The hospital's admissions are up 3 percent to 5 percent in the past three years, and Mr. George expects the trend to continue. A big part of that is the Joseph M. Still Burn Center, which is also a focus of the renovation. Standing outside the center's boxy and always full waiting room, Mr. George says it will be converted into an operating room like the two that are next door. The waiting room will be moved into what is now a parking lot at the back of the hospital and other services relocated to allow for future expansion.

It will be needed. The Advanced Wound Center, for instance, sees 60 to 100 patients a day, and the burn center already gets 60 percent of all burns in Georgia and South Carolina and many from surrounding states.

"We're starting to expand into Mississippi, Alabama, some of the other states," Mr. George said. What was built in 1985 as a 25-bed unit has grown to 59 beds and taken over part of a floor of the main hospital.

"We have so much volume, outpatient and inpatient for burns, we've just outgrown ourselves," he said.

It is more than burns -- radiation therapy, for instance, is up 30 percent over the previous year, and the hospital just bought a second linear accelerator to see more of those patients, he said.

"We're expecting growth in not only burn, we're expecting it in orthopedics, neurosurgery, women's services and cancer care," Mr. George said.

The tower, for example, will be built to accommodate three more floors in the future.

Doctors Hospital isn't alone in its construction. University Hospital is in the midst of a $94 million renovation, Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics is planning $110 million in projects in the next few years, and the school is planning a $124 million new building for the School of Dentistry that will likely be part of a larger medical education complex with new facilities for the School of Medicine.

Though other nonresidential construction will likely drop off next year after a year of double-digit gains, health care construction should continue unabated, said Kenneth D. Simonson, the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, the construction trade group.

"That's one of the strongest markets, has been for a couple of years, and I expect it to continue that way," he said.

In some ways they have to build to keep up, Mr. Simonson said.

"Hospitals are having to extensively remodel to accommodate large new pieces of equipment and also to meet new standards of care for patients in recovery," he said. "You have semiprivate rooms being converted to private and adding a lot more wiring and plumbing for monitoring equipment" and things such as oxygen.

Doctors Hospital has spent $16 million this year on new technology, Mr. George said.

"We've really spent a lot of time, energy and money on just upgrading technology this year," he said. "It's been a huge year."

And it is only getting bigger.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.