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Oktibbeha County Hospital in midst of $30 Million project.

On the leading edge of medical care facility expansion

Starkville — To accommodate the increasing healthcare needs of patients in the rural seven-county area surrounding Starkville, Oktibbeha County Hospital (OCH) is in the midst of a $30-million renovation and expansion project, another in a series of improvements for the locally owned hospital.

“Over the last decade, this community has grown about 16%,” said OCH CEO Sonny Kelly. “We’re trying to keep up with that growth, and I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. With the bypasses and four-lane system coming through Starkville, we think it will really grow. We’re trying to position ourselves with the facilities and medical staff to meet the needs that are here now and that we think are coming. We’re trying to stay on the front edge of growth.”

For the fourth and final phase, OCH is adding a new four-story, 80,000-square-foot South Tower to house a new emergency services suite and to increase the number of surgery rooms. Technical enhancements and aesthetic improvements will be made to 25,000 square feet of existing space for the pharmacy, X-ray, recovery, laboratory and sterile supply areas, along with the main business office.

White Construction Company of Ridgeland is working on the project with Pryor and Morrow Architects of Columbus.
Phase I of the project involved the removal of existing parking areas and the construction of a new parking lot to pave the way for the new 10,000-square-foot hospital supplies and materials building in Phase III.

“That phase is completed and the building is being moved into now,” said Kelly. “All infrastructure — boilers and chillers — that will drive the system is in place and operating. They’re pouring the South Tower now, which is expected to open in July 2005. The new emergency and radiology departments, laboratory and pharmacy will open first. Then we’ll move to the second floor, which has the surgical units. The last phase of this project will include renovating all the space we’re pulling out of, and that will take us through early spring 2006.”

Paying for it

Of the $30 million, construction costs account for $20.3 million, equipment costs $6 million, and the balance covers capitalized interest and financing costs.

“OCH is one of the few county-owned hospitals left in the state, and we’re financing the whole thing ourselves, which is remarkable for us,” said Kelly, who joined OCH in 1974, a year after it opened. “It’s a little scary, also, considering the times we’re in with reimbursements.”

In an expansion project a decade ago, the 96-bed hospital created the OCH HealthPlex, a 30,000-square-foot facility that houses the hospital’s rehabilitation services department, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation programs and the Wellness Connection, a total fitness center dedicated to improving the health and well-being of area residents.

“The HealthPlex is performing very well, very much the way we expected it to,” said Kelly.

Not too long ago, OCH opened the NeuroDiagnostic Center in one of the complex’s physician office buildings. It features a board-certified neurologist and staff for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles.

“Having the NeuroDiagnostic Center housed there is probably temporary because the new construction allows space in our respiratory therapy department for neurodiagnositics capabilities,” said Kelly. “More than likely, we’ll pull out of that building and put it in the hospital. Then that space will go back into lease mode.”

The number of physicians with staff privileges at OCH has grown from a half- dozen in the early 1970s to more than 100 to accommodate the hospital’s 20,000 annual emergency room visitors and 18,000 outpatients. Medical specialties represented include family medicine, gastroenterology, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, ophthalmology, orthopedic surgery, otolaryngology (ENT), pediatrics, radiology and urology. Local patients also receive care in sports medicine, sleep medicine, speech therapy, and physical therapy. The hospital features six intensive care unit beds.

An asset to economic development

OCH’s biggest bragging right: it consistently boasts one of the nation’s lowest nosocomial (hospital-acquired infection) rates.

“I think 5% is about the national average, and ours has averaged between 2% and 3%,” said Kelly. “The lower you can keep that figure, the safer your patients are. We’re proud of that.”

David Thornell, CecD, president and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said OCH continues to be a major contributor to the community’s quality of life and an asset to The Partnership’s economic development efforts.

“They are providing more and more of the specialized healthcare that is normally only found in much larger communities,” he said. “Also, they are a major employer in our region, with approximately 550 persons who are well paid for the skills and knowledge that they possess. The Partnership recognized the hospital as a vital part of our diverse economy by naming it Industry of the Year for 2004. We are definitely proud to have a growing hospital amid the many competitive challenges that hospitals in smaller communities face on a day-to-day basis.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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