By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — After four years of planning, Lawrence General Hospital is about to embark on a $72 million project to change the look of the hospital and which trustees hope will strengthen its role as a leading medical center in the Merrimack Valley.
The Board of Trustees has unanimously approved construction of a new surgical building, renovations to patients’ rooms and other aesthetic upgrades.
Lawrence General last fall purchased 50 Prospect St. — a five-story building housing doctors offices and other medical facilities. These will relocate to other sites and the building will be demolished to make way for a 42,250-square-foot surgical edifice.
“We know this significant strategic investment will further enhance the quality of care provided to our patients,” said Dianne J. Anderson, hospital president and chief executive officer. “We will be well positioned to provide future health care needs of the communities we serve right here in the Merrimack Valley.”
Andover attorney Matthew A. Caffrey, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said they are “building on our emerging role as an important medical center and resource for the region.”
Denise S. Palumbo, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Lawrence General Hospital, said the current operating rooms are almost 50 years old.
“It had served the organization very well, but it doesn’t meet today’s technical advances,” Palumbo said.
Some of the advances include robotic surgery for urology and gynecological surgery and the hybrid Operating Room which combines imaging and surgery.
“This technology will enhance the ability to perform more complex vascular surgery, neurosurgery and cardiac surgery procedures using a minimally invasive approach,” Palumbo said. “I’m very pleased with the expansion because it speaks to the immediate need of the hospital and its mission to better service the community and offer more specialties to the community.”
The surgical building will cost $55 million and improvements to patient rooms will be $17 million, for a total of $72 million.
Palumbo said Lawrence General will borrow part of the money for the construction and the rest through philanthropy. A planning study is underway for a capital campaign.
The building will have six operating rooms, doubling the size of the current surgical service at Lawrence General.
Palumbo said the additional room and state-of-the-art equipment will attract more skilled doctors to the hospital and allow them to do more complex surgeries.
There is another benefit.
“This (the expansion) will allow us to build on the relationship we have with Beth Israel Deaconess and Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center to do the surgery, instead of our patients going to the city,” Palumbo said of the Boston-based facilities. “We can provide that same complex care at a more reasonable cost, the same level of quality and same experience.”
Lawrence General Hospital established a partnership with Beth Israel and Floating Hospital for Children in 2010. The medical affiliation with Floating Hospital for Children brings pediatric surgery, anesthesia, cardiology and a pediatric after-hours clinic to Lawrence General.
The hospital also supports the Medicine Residency Program at Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, which attracts students from top medical schools across the country.
Lawrence General hosts residents of the program and members of its medical staff teach residents in their offices, in lectures and on rounds.
The hospital also partners with Merrimack Valley YMCA and Pentucket Medical Associates, with whom they are opening the Andover Medical Center & ExpressCare, later this year. The new medical facility will be on Route 133 across from the IRS building. Andover Medical Center & ExpressCare will provide primary care, pediatric care, urgent care, imaging and lab services, women’s services, mammography and pediatric neurology.
Palumbo said the second phase of the facility plan is to renovate patients’ rooms by creating nine single rooms with enough space to allow family members to stay overnight with patients. It is part of a “belief system that they do better when family members can be with them,” Palumbo said.
The concept is already used in the pediatric unit where parents can stay with their children when they are hospitalized.
She said more patients are requesting single rooms, which Palumbo, as a registered nurse, explained reduces the number of infections and helps in the healing process.
“When they’re in the hospital, we want people not just recover but recuperate, and they do so when they get more sleep and rest,” Palumbo said.
In a recent voluntary survey about patient growth, Lawrence General ranked third in inpatient discharges out of the 45 Massachusetts hospitals that responded. Overall, she said Lawrence General inpatient discharges increased by 3 percent while the state average decreased by 2.5 percent. Surgeries at Lawrence General have grown by 8 percent over the past five years.
Trustees and senior hospital leaders first met in 2010 to come up with the strategic plan, said Vanessa C. Kortze, manager of Marketing and Communications at Lawrence General Hospital.
Palumbo said after the study by the architectural firm of MorrisSwitzer and Halsa they decided to expand the operating rooms and renovate patient rooms.
“I believe this organization can do much more and will have a greater impact to the community,” Palumbo said.
“(The expansion) is historical for the organization, to commit this kind of funding to make these kind of changes which are needed and necessary for the success of the organization. This is profound for the physicians and nurses.”
She said Lawrence General is one of the city’s largest employers with 1,825 employees.
“The board had a really great vision for the facility ... We’re doing it now because we think it is right for the organization. We demonstrated to the board how successful the organization can be under Dianne’s tenure,” Palumbo said.
The project will begin next year. This comes on the heels of the 2006 improvements to the emergency room wing that cost $20 million.
Northern Essex Community College President Lane Glenn said one-third of its students graduate from nursing and allied health programs. During their course of study, Northern Essex students work with area hospitals including Lawrence General where they do community projects or use their labs.
“This is a big statement and I’m happy they will be able to provide more opportunities,” Glenn said.
“Lawrence General and Northern Essex are anchoring institutions in the city. We have the opportunity to be real economic engines in Lawrence so our success is the city’s success and we rise and fall with it,” he added.
Marc Lemay, public relations and media coordinator at Greater Lawrence Family Health Center said the expansion is “a well rounded decision by the hospital.”
“It also shows Lawrence General is truly invested in the community,” he said. “In the short term, it will add construction jobs and in the long term, there will be more health care providers working in the community.”
Lawrence General Hospital expansion - The existing surgical suite is only 21,000 square feet and does not meet the current design and code standards of at least 42,000 square footage. It also does not have enough recovery bays and spaces, inadequate storage and the risk of contamination is high due to traffic. - The new surgical unit will have six operating rooms, a catheter and a peripheral vascular lab; an intervenional radiology room and a caterer hybrid operating room. - Other areas in the surgical building include surgical day care, post anesthesia care unit and pre-admission testing. - Renovations to the inpatient units total 25,600 square feet which includes: Nine single rooms with an area for family members to stay overnight; A 17-bed unit with single and semi-private rooms and an additional 10,600 square foot area will be converted into renovated single rooms and semi-private rooms.