The changing face of an Idaho hospital

St. Joe’s in Lewiston plans a big expansion in the next few years.

LEWISTON TRIBUNEOctober 8, 2013 

St. Joseph Regional Medical Center has embarked on a $42.7-million plan for a three-story, 66,400-square-foot addition to the 400,000-square-foot hospital.

The Lewiston hospital blessed ground Sept. 21 for a new central energy plant as it announced plans for the wing. The expansion will house outpatient services, including an oncology center now on Idaho Street, new technology and physician offices, says St. Joe's President and CEO Tim Sayler.

The addition will be connected to the existing hospital by a new main entrance and take shape over as many as three years. It will be constructed west of the existing hospital, requiring the demolition of four buildings and closing part of Sixth Street.

Three of the buildings are in or near the proposed expansion footprint. One houses the Lewis & Clark Health Center run by Community Health Association of Spokane. Pathologists Regional Laboratory has an office and technology staff in another of the buildings. The third is home to Phoenix Radiology. That’s the only one of the three not owned by St. Joe’s.

Another hospital-owned building, Lewiston Medical Center, will be removed to make room for about 250 new parking spots.

St. Joe’s is working with Phoenix Radiology and hospital tenants to help them relocate, says Christina Metcalf, director of marketing and community and volunteer services for the hospital.

Most of the physicians at Lewiston Medical Clinic are employed by the hospital and will transfer to the new building, Metcalf says.

The new main entrance will be where Sixth Street is now. North of the main entrance, Sixth Street will serve as the primary vehicle entrance to the hospital between Third and Fourth avenues.

South of the main entrance, Sixth Street will be turned into a courtyard between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The hospital is in preliminary talks with the city about vacating the street, Metcalf says.

Fifth Avenue will be turned into a one-way route for westbound traffic between Seventh and Sixth streets.

The announcement of the expansion came less than four months after the hospital announced it was cutting 40 full- and part-time positions from its staff of about 1,000. Despite the cuts, Sayler says the hospital doesn’t anticipate having trouble affording the project.

The central energy plant construction, which represents $14 million of the overall project cost, is being funded through reserves and a loan from Ascension Health, the St. Louis-based chain of not-for-profit hospitals that owns St. Joe’s, Sayler says.

Revenue from outpatient services is expected to cover the rest of the expansion. “We wouldn’t rule out a capital campaign,” Sayler says.

St. Joe’s is starting with the central energy plant because completion, which is expected before the end of 2014, is a prerequisite to the other upgrades, he says.

The hospital is replacing and expanding its heating and air-conditioning system as well as its generators for emergency back-up power and a power vault that distributes electricity once it reaches the hospital. The present system is about 50 years old.

The existing infrastructure can handle the hospital’s existing square footage but would be overloaded by the expansion, Sayler says. The central energy plant is planned for a site now occupied by a brick house used for storage. That building will be moved or demolished.

St. Joe’s plans to start on the three-story building after completing the energy plant. The expansion will help the hospital adapt to emerging trends in health care, Sayler says.

The new facility will allow St. Joe’s to provide more procedures in an outpatient setting, he says, which is typically less expensive than inpatient treatment.

The new building will also improve the hospital’s telemedicine capabilities, something that also can control costs, Sayler says. Using technology, physicians can make sure patients are getting treated in the right place.

Doctors at St. Joe’s can assist their colleagues in Grangeville and other communities as they decide if their patients need to be transferred, he says. Similarly, St. Joe’s physicians can work with medical professionals in Seattle to determine if their patients need expertise not available in Lewiston.

At the same time, the more than 30 new medical offices will help St. Joe’s accommodate a higher number of doctors, who increasingly would rather be employees focusing on delivering patient care, Sayler says.

As comprehensive as the plan is, one part of St. Joe’s property won’t be touched: the asbestos-riddled former apartment buildings on the north edge of the hospital campus.

The price tag for that job is $1 million, Sayler says: “We’d like them removed, but it costs so much.”

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