Plans for Carle work get larger

URBANA – A state planning board is expected to decide in December whether Carle Foundation Hospital can undertake a much larger expansion project than originally planned.

Under Carle's latest $48.7 million expansion proposal, the hospital's north tower would grow by an additional five stories instead of just two, and a new, two-story building would be added to what is currently a parking lot for ManorCare Health Services, Carle officials say.

The new project encompasses the original $28 million expansion Carle originally planned, which also includes an expansion of the hospital's emergency department.

Plans for the five new tower floors include two new floors for obstetrics, one for pediatrics, one for the neonatal unit and one for medical-surgery patients, said Carle Vice President of Operations Lynne Barnes.

Note the cluster of women and children services at the top of the tower, she said.

"It basically gives us a moms' and kids' hospital, right on top of our hospital," she added.

The new building being added in ManorCare's parking area would be used to support the hospital's surgical department, which needs more pre-op and post-op space, Barnes said.

Manorcare's parking lot would be moved across the street, she added.

Barnes said Carle officials already have approval from the state's Health Facilities Planning Board to proceed with the smaller expansion, but earlier this year decided to enlarge the scope of the project before work ever started.

Among the reasons was a growing need for more bed space and a growing pediatrics program, Barnes said.

Another factor is an anticipated change in the city of Urbana's building codes that would prohibit adding additional stories to the tower later, she said.

Carle Foundation Hospital is currently licensed for 295 beds, and has only about 220 beds in service right now due to space constraints, according to Carle Director of Engineering Services Von Lambert.

The hospital's average daily census is 175 to 180 patients, and things get especially crowded when the census gets much higher than that, Barnes said.

"When we have 200 in the hospital, we are bursting at the seams," she added.

The new medical surgery floor will add 40 more patient rooms with the potential for up to 80 more beds, Lambert said.

The obstetrics department will remain at 26 beds, but expectant and new moms will all be in private rooms with private baths and their own showers, Barnes said.

The neonatal unit, which is currently crowded, will be reconfigured and given much more space for babies and their families on its new tower floor, she said.

Yet another new feature will be a private elevator serving the new women's and children's area in the tower, Barnes said.

"We're real excited about it," she added. "We're going to be making major improvement for our moms and our kids."

Barnes said pediatrics and neonatal services aren't money-makers for the hospital, largely because families with very sick children often are buried under so many medical bills they wind up in the hospital's charity care program, and premature babies are often born to uninsured teen-age moms who also can't pay for care. Carle is adding the space largely because the community needs it, she said.

"We think it is absolutely the right thing to do," she said.

The next step is obtaining a certificate of need to proceed with the additional parts of the expansion project.

Barnes and Lambert said Carle's proposal will be heard by the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board Dec. 17, and if the board grants approval the work will go out for bid in February and construction would start in May or June, Lambert said.

Meanwhile, some parts of the expansion already approved are moving ahead.

To make way for the emergency department expansion, Carle hospital's occupational medicine department will move in December to a temporary, 4,000-square-foot modular unit just west of the current emergency department.

Over the following year to 14 months, Lambert said, the emergency department will be expanded to add space for new technology, a new chemical decontamination room, more exam rooms and another nurse's station, he and Barnes said.

Carle's expansion project is proceeding while another project to add more health care facilities in the community remains on hold.

Dr. Tom Pliura, a LeRoy physician who tried to obtain state approval to build a small specialty hospital in Urbana, said he abandoned that project this past summer when the state extended a requirement to obtain a certificate of need that had been scheduled to expire.

Pliura said he is still appealing a state planning board denial of a surgery center project he proposed for Urbana more than two years ago, and it was clear to him if that if he can't get that smaller facility off the ground it would unrealistic to pursue the larger hospital project he wanted.

You can reach Debra Pressey at (217) 351-5229 or via e-mail at dpressey@news-gazette.com.

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