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Editorial: Hospital’s expansion plans a dose of good news

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Columbus Regional Hospital’s announcement that it will build a new emergency department and expand its cancer center as part of a $30 million project is a healthy sign for the medical organization and Bartholomew County.

Investment in quality health care is a priority for a community. Residents want to know that good medical care is nearby. Community economic development leaders courting prospective businesses want to show that quality medical services are here for the company’s employees.

The hospital’s plans show that it is committed to meeting growing demands for emergency and cancer services. Those plans are more signs of how well the hospital has recovered from the June 2008 flood.

Columbus Regional was set to embark on a similar but larger expansion plan in January 2008. Its board of trustees had approved a $108 million project to build a new emergency department, add 60 private patient rooms in a five-story pavilion, and add about 130 parking spaces and about 225,000 square feet to the hospital itself. The hospital would have used $48 million from cash reserves and borrowed the rest.

However, the June 7, 2008, flood that caused damage to large parts of Columbus and Bartholomew County forced patients to be evacuated from the hospital. Water damage was so significant that the hospital had to close, and it didn’t reopen in its entirety until Oct. 27 of that year.

Hospital leaders used money intended for the expansion project to pay employees while the hospital was closed. That investment in people rather than bricks and mortar delayed expansion plans until cash reserves were replenished, and hospital leaders could figure out the next step.

It would have been tempting to again tackle the large scope of the 2008 plans. Prudently, hospital leaders chose to bite off what they knew they could chew, selecting a more conservative approach financially. The entire project will be paid for with money from the hospital’s cash reserves.

While the scope is about one-third of the original vision, the project still addresses the top priority from the previous project: a larger emergency department.

The current emergency department was built in 1992 to handle 25,000 patients annually. However, it’s been serving about 40,000 since 2009. With a growing population in Columbus and more patients with insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, local health leaders expect the number of people using the emergency department to grow.

The new, two-story emergency department will increase from 10,600 square feet to 24,000 square feet. Also, it will be able to serve 45,000 to 47,000 patients annually.

Another notable aspect of the project’s various plans is that hospital leaders identified a need to expand the cancer center. The number of new patients receiving care at the center has increased 24 percent over the past three years. The current 15,000-square-foot facility will gain an additional 5,000 square feet.

Columbus Regional’s new project tackles two huge patient needs and improves health care assets.

That sounds like a prescription to benefit the community.

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