El Centro hospital undertakes $45.8 million expansion

November 19, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Hidden behind the 8-foot high fence — painted by local schoolchildren — surrounding a portion of the El Centro Regional Medical Center rises a new $45.8 million community hospital.

The new 66,000 square-foot, two-story adjoining building will replace the critical core of patient-care areas and provide solutions for a number of hospital's needs.

The expansion project includes a new 48-bed medical-surgical wing; an eight-bed expansion of the emergency room from 12 to 20; a four-bed expansion to the intensive care unit from eight to 12; a federally approved rooftop heliport with direct access to the medical-surgical unit; new and larger entrance for both the emergency room and main lobby; a new surgical suite of five operating rooms and two specialized procedure rooms and a new centralized registration system.

The new facility will give the community the assurance that residents' medical care is a local priority, said Mayor Cheryl Walker.


"The hospital expansion will allow for improved efficiency within the hospital, improved care, enhanced treatment and, we hope, just better customer satisfaction all around," she said.

The hospital is an agency of the city but receives no money from the city's tax revenues.

The hospital's history dates back to 1908, when a 13-bed facility was opened by doctors practicing in the area. The hospital was eventually sold to the county and renamed Imperial Valley Hospital. By 1949, the area's increasing population led to the need for a larger facility. The hospital's ongoing Legacy of Caring program began at the same time. The result was a new hospital built in the mid-1950s that accepted its first patients in 1957.

It is this 21,700 square-foot facility being upgraded and expanded upon today. An expansion in the 1960s added 20,600 square-feet and increased the hospital's size to 86 beds. In 1973 the public approved a bond issue for a further expansion, including enhancements to radiology, emergency, laboratories and in-patient care areas. In 1986 the name of El Centro Community Hospital was changed to El Centro Regional Medical Center to reflect the broad area it serves.

The new medical plaza opened in 1997.

A recent tour of the ongoing construction project, which began May 7, revealed work on the new building's concrete pad, which was poured Wednesday.

Jim Dikes, El Centro Regional director of facility services/project manager, said about 13,000 square feet of 5-inch thick concrete was poured and that after three days of curing it will be ready to build upon. He said the next major step will be to construct and raise tilt-up walls in early January.

The new facility will include parking lot improvements along Pepper Drive. The parking lots will have a berm and landscaping on the south side to reduce the effect of vehicle lights on local residences. There will be street improvements at the intersection of Imperial Avenue and Ross Avenue and Imperial at Pepper.

Dikes said the new building will include several knockout panels for future expansion of the operating rooms and recovery room.

The expansion is expected to be completed by mid-August.

Separately, the hospital is undergoing seismic retrofitting as required by state law. The first phase, to be completed by the end of the year, include non-structural upgrades to lighting, communications and the fire alarm system, at an estimated cost of $100,000. A structural upgrade to the core building, constructed in 1955, will include the roof, at a cost of about $5 million and take about six months.

Dikes said the roof replacement will not occur until the new building is occupied.

Bill Lewis, El Centro Regional director of development, said the older building has withstood every earthquake to date, including the magnitude 7.1 in 1979.

Besides the new addition, architectural drawings are being prepared for the facility's women's center. The expansion will include 2,100 square feet of floor space and add three new labor/delivery/recovery rooms. Such rooms offer mothers and fathers the option of remaining in the same room throughout labor, delivery and recovery.

About 100 babies are delivered monthly at the hospital. The new rooms should be available in about 18 months.

Meanwhile, the hospital is counting on the community to help fund the ongoing project through the Building on a Legacy of Caring campaign. The hope is the campaign will raise $2 million.

"We're pretty confident it is going to be raised but we need the generosity of the community," Lewis said.

There are a number of ways community members can participate in the campaign, including one-time gifts, budgeted gifts, matching gifts and gifts of assets. The names of donors of $1,000 or more will be inscribed on a donor wall in the new building. There are opportunities to have certain areas of the new building named after donors.

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