Officials say that St. Joseph’s Hospital will redefine health care for the region with a focus on patient comfort on Savannah’s southside when its completed first phase of a $21.6 million expansion opens Monday.
The 17,000-square-foot expansion of the emergency room, outpatient and ambulance areas focuses on what Paul P. Hinchey, president/CEO, calls “retail health care” designed to replace confusion and congestion with an environment that says, “You’re welcome. We want you here and we want to take care of you.”
But more than just comfort, the first phase of an 18-month expansion is designed to improve patient care and meet what Hinchey said is an expanding regional market.
It will be the only retail-type environment health care site outside of Atlanta, he said, but will retain its legacy of the Sisters of Mercy, who started in health care here 140 years ago and remain the Catholic Church’s designated sponsor for the hospital.
“This is a major investment in the biggest building on Savannah’s southside,” Hinchey said. “It is strategically located for the growing population in all counties surrounding Savannah, so this expansion is a keystone for our overall strategic plan to deliver easy access to high-quality health care for the entire region.”
St. Joseph’s is part of the St. Joseph’s/Candler system of 714 beds, including 330 at St. Joseph’s and 384 at Candler Hospital serving 33 counties in southeast Georgia and South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
The expansion features three new entrances facing Abercorn Street – the emergency room, outpatient surgery and imaging and ambulance — each designed to provide a more appealing, functional and high-tech setting, Hinchey said.
The emergency room will have expanded by 30 percent, from 24 rooms to 32 rooms, when additional renovations are complete this summer, Hinchey said.
Rooms are larger and designed to ensure clean lines and removal of all impediments along walls.
The new 14,815-square-foot expanded emergency room opens at 5 a.m. Monday, and plans call for the gutting of the existing emergency room so that it, too, can be done over. Completion is expected by July.
Hinchey said southside Savannah has changed dramatically since the hospital opened its present site in 1970. Included in those changes for St. Joseph’s is the increased patient volume from Georgetown, Pooler, Richmond Hill and, with the completion of the Truman Parkway, The Landings, he said.
The emergency room’s patient load has jumped from 40,000 a year to an expected 60,000 a year.
And with affiliations with health care providers in Jesup, Douglas and Effingham County, “This has become a regional care center,”Hinchey said.
The latest expansion follows the $21 million exterior facelift and interior renovation project completed in July 2014. Hinchey said that project resulted in a modern facility that combined greener features and upgrades of the 217 renovated patient rooms.
That included installation of more than 100-year-old stained glass windows from the earlier St. Joseph’s Hospital at Taylor and Habersham streets.
The newest work incorporates that same tribute to the Sisters of Mercy, who established the first hospital in 1875. Three stained glass windows from the previous St. Joseph’s site hang on the wall facing the entrance to the 2.5-story atrium to the new emergency room center.
An 800-pound Mercy Rose Window, usually found in a church, depicting the journey of the religion’s order here since 1845, will hang over the entrance in the same atrium.
Hinchey said DIRTT Environmennal Solutions designs have provided walls that are moveable to meet future needs, and an emphasis has been given to high ceilings and large open walls of glass, many of which can be closed to adapt to sunlight. Natural light has been emphasized inside.
An X-ray machine and CT scan will be in the emergency room, removing the need to move patients to other parts of the facility and assisting in getting treatment completed.
Exterior details add to calm
Outside, Hinchey said great efforts have been made to make the experience more like a hotel than a hospital. The landscaper from Hilton Head does work for hotels and golf courses, again adding to the “retail health care” theme.
A marble “Welcoming Christ” statute — hand-carved with marble brought from the Northern Italy site where Renaissance painter/sculptor Michelangelo got his marble — will focus over a flowing waterfall featuring the Biblical verse from the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to me all who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.”
The statue will be unveiled at noon Thursday as one of several events to roll out the expansion.
“So it will be like a little park,” Hinchey said. “So people can sit and meditate.”
When designing the rooms, nurses who will be using them were consulted and their recommendations incorporated in the finished product.
“All of this was designed by the nurses,” Hinchey said.
Likewise in designing the emergency room entrance off Dutchtown Road, local EMS companies were involved to make the finished product more in line with their needs, Hinchey said. A new helipad sits nearby.
He said the project represents 52,000 work hours with zero days lost to injury, and 85 percent of the workforce on the project was local.
“One-hundred forty years later we’re still here,” Hinchey said. “This should take care of us for another 40-50 years.”
Sisters of Mercy influence
Sister Margaret Beatty, vice president for missions at St. Joseph’s/Candler, said the new additions meet the mission of the Sisters of Mercy — caring for the people we serve.
Beatty is one of 18 sisters in the health care system, most of whom are Sisters of Mercy.
“They did what the people of Savannah needed at the time,” she said of the order’s history here since 1845. “That’s been a consistent pattern. … They were servants. They got to work and did what was needed.”
She said that when Sister Mary Cornile Dulohery, who headed the hospital from 1960-1982, moved to the southside and opened St. Joseph’s there in 1970, she considered that the best thing to do for the people of Savannah. Similarly, when the two hospitals merged in 1997, the sisters considered it the best thing for Savannah’s needs.
“We’re devoted to this community,” she said. “This is going to provide really fine health care for people.”
Hinchey “wants (the expansion) to have a religious atmosphere,” she said. “The hospital is, in fact, a holy place.”