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11-story hospital project making big impact on skyline

Southaven — When talking about the largest hospital project in the state’s history, the $175-million construction projects at Baptist Memorial DeSoto, it can be hard to visualize the impact of such a major endeavor that includes construction of a new 11-story patient tower.

“I think readers of this article who know the area are going to be very surprised, if they haven’t been up this way in a while, when they drive up I-55 and see the impact on the skyline,” said Randy King, administrator and CEO of Baptist Memorial DeSoto. “This is a huge project. It is a very tall building, certainly the tallest structure in the area. It is very impressive. It is more than doubling our space. We are very excited about this project that will allow us to enhance the care we deliver to our patients and keep pace with our county’s rapid growth.”

Jim Flanagan, president of the DeSoto County Economic Development Council, said the hospital addition is invaluable from a quality of life perspective because it provides a higher level of care for the residents of DeSoto County and the northwest region of the state.

“Just the construction phase has employed a large number of workers, and then there is the large medical employment base that will result from the largest certificate of need project in Mississippi,” Flanagan said. “Businesses choose to relocate and expand to an area whose growth is not outstripping its infrastructure, and the Baptist expansion is about the best measure to denote this proactive development. The immediate area around Baptist has already exploded with medical services, and this expansion will further this expansion county wide.”

Making an impact

Construction on the tower began May 1, 2004. The general contractor is Bovis Lend Lease, Nashville, Tenn. The cost of the patient tower is estimated at $102 million, with the remaining portion of the $175-million certificate of need being used to renovate the current patient space, which will be converted into other medical uses. The project is expected to be complete October 27, 2006.

King said the project is having a huge impact on the local economy. Most of the construction workforce is from the general area. The hospital already has a major presence as one of the largest employers in the region with an annual payroll of $50 million.

“As we add 140 beds and new services, our payroll is sure to grow,” said King, who serves on the board of the DeSoto County Economic Development Council. “Healthcare is very important to the quality of life and economic development. When businesses and industry look at areas to relocate in, they consider a number of things. The quality of schools and healthcare are two top considerations.

“I think Baptist’s dedication to this community is certainly an asset when trying to recruit business and industry to the area. This investment says volumes about Baptist’s commitment to Mississippi and DeSoto County. It shows we are committed to providing high quality healthcare to this community.”

Building up

Baptist decided to build a tower rather than a shorter structure that is more spread out because of high property values in the area, and operating efficiencies.

“This is the 35th fastest-growing county in the U.S.,” King said. “This area at the intersection of Goodman and Airways roads is very valuable property. A new lifestyle center mall is opening across Goodman Road from us. Buildings are going up all around us. The tower also makes it more efficient for staff. For example, you have the emergency department on the second floor, surgery on the floor above that and ICU on the floor above that. To take a patient from the emergency room to surgery, you just get in an elevator and go up one floor as opposed to rolling the patient a long way across a building. It is a lot easier operation for staffing efficiency. I think that is why you see more facilities doing that.”

Ken Kirkpatrick, director of construction project services for the project, said the major challenge they faced with this facility’s construction was that the City of Southaven recently adopted the new IBC code, which increased the amount of structural steel and concrete required for the building.

Cost for materials such as concrete and steel have increased dramatically over the past year. But Kirkpatrick said they have been able to hold down costs for the project by buying most of the products for the building early on, locking in prices.

“We knew that petroleum prices going up and down could affect the price of products,” Kirkpatrick said. “A lot of products like concrete, steel and copper are affected by the price of petroleum.”

Construction labor availability can be a big issue in construction circles in the state, but Kirkpatrick said they haven’t had a problem.

“This is the largest project in this area of the country at the moment,” he said. “A number of projects are out for bid in the Memphis area, but construction hasn’t yet begun. Labor locally has been very available throughout the project.”

Kirkpatrick said the new patient rooms are basically the same as existing patient rooms. The main change is that the codes require additional space for new patient rooms as opposed to how the patient rooms were built years ago.

“The rooms are a little larger and more comfortable, but the basic patient room remains the same,” Kirkpatrick said. “The only new technology we are looking at outside of medical equipment is the building will be constructed for wireless technology for data such as computers, phones, and medical equipment.”

The project also will add a new and expanded emergency department, more operating suites and space for future additions.

This expansion comes on the heels of a 2001 project that nearly doubled the size of the hospital and added services such as a new critical care unit and capability for open heart surgery.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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