breaking new ground

After five years of work Johnson Memorial Health opens a new space
By Jon Shoulders  //  photography BY Lesle Lane

A collective vision among leaders at Johnson Memorial Health that began nearly five years ago has finally come to fruition for the hospital.

In 2015, the hospital leadership team came to a fairly basic realization: The county was continuing to grow rapidly, and the hospital needed to grow with it. Soon, a plan for new facilities began to form.

“The No. 1 factor behind this project is that Johnson County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state,” says David Dunkle, CEO of JMH. “Back when we started discussing this, we just weren’t sure that our current facilities were adequate to keep pace with that growth.”

Leadership members promptly hired a consulting firm to undertake a comprehensive view of the county and its demographics, as well as JMH’s current services. “They did a feasibility study and looked closely at the trends in hospitals, such as how inpatient volume in the industry overall has been going down and outpatient volume is going up,” says Jeff Dutton, JMH marketing director. “They projected county growth and what it would look like in the next 10 years. Our emergency department was very small, and the hospital wanted to be ready for the growth the county is seeing.”

JMH leaders officially announced the renovation and expansion project in the fall of 2016, and the following year held a groundbreaking ceremony in August. Demolition of the original hospital building, constructed in 1947, soon followed, and new construction was underway.

The groundbreaking ceremony included the opening of two time capsules from the 1940s and 1950s from the cornerstone of the original hospital, which contained newspaper clippings, a receipt for treatment from one of the first hospital patients and road maps of the county.

“We’re planning to rebury those capsules with some additional things like copies of the Daily Journal with stories covering the hospital and the pandemic,” Dutton says. “That should make for fairly interesting reading for folks years from now, with everything that’s been going on. It’s really a historic time to be opening this new building.”

The grand tour
JMH’s new wing includes a 17,400-square-foot emergency department with an ambulance drive, as well as a 33,000-square-foot outpatient space, which opened in June and features lab registration and medical imaging areas on the main floor for services such as MRIs, X-rays and blood draws. The medical imaging department includes a Breast Care Center, whose staff began accepting patients in June.

Dutton says JMH entered into an agreement with Boone County Emergency Medicine, which will staff the new emergency room with a team of board-certified ER doctors.

A new Diabetes Care Center is now staffed with a registered nurse, a certified diabetes educator and a registered dietitian. The team will offer one-on-one education for diabetes self-management, insulin instruction, insulin pump education and continuous glucose monitoring. Community education classes will also be offered and will cover all aspects of diabetes, including blood glucose testing, blood glucose targets and disease process information.

With a two-story atrium, the new facility’s second floor houses a wellness and diabetes care space, complete with a demonstration kitchen where wellness specialists can offer classes on healthy cooking and eating.

“The kitchen demonstration space will evolve over time. We already do regular cooking demonstrations for our diabetes care patients, but I think eventually we’d like to open it up to the public for demonstrations,” Dutton says.

Josh Watters, who serves as nutrition services manager at JMH and oversees the kitchen operations and patient meal deliveries, has offered cooking demonstrations at the hospital cafeteria for the Diabetes Care Center in the past. He says the new wellness space will be the future home of new, improved cooking demonstrations for both patients and the public starting in the fall.

“Several departments will use the new community space, and we’ll be able to do more of the demonstrations throughout the year,” Watters says. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do more classes geared toward different specialties. We tried to set it up as close to a home kitchen as we could, so people wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and will feel empowered to go home and try the things that they see on display.”

The new kitchen space features a camera pointed at the cooking and prep surface that is connected to a television monitor, affording audiences an optimal view of the cooking process.

“The people in the audience will be able to get a bird’s-eye view like a cooking or food channel would have, while I’m cooking and instructing a class,” Watters says. “Hopefully that will help the classes come to life since they’ll get to see everything, unlike previously in the cafeteria. I’m really looking forward to that.”

Enhanced experiences
The total cost of the construction project is $47 million, which, according to Dutton, includes the orthopedic rehabilitation center that opened on the west side of the hospital campus in late 2017. That facility features physical, speech and occupational therapy, as well as orthopedic surgery services and a Pain Relief Center.

The new emergency and outpatient facilities were originally slated for a January launch, and weather delays pushed the opening until the end of April. The coronavirus pandemic, unsurprisingly, led to another delay, which prompted some creative thinking on the part of the hospital’s leaders. In response to a projected need for its coronavirus patients in April, JMH officials directed the construction crew working on the new building to refocus all their energies on the new emergency department in order to convert it into an isolation area for COVID-19 patients.

“They finished out the emergency department in about 48 hours of intense work after they were told to do that,” Dutton says. “That enabled us to segregate the COVID patients from the rest of the hospital, and the air in the new building was kept separate. That, of course, changed everything about how we were opening the building.”

Dutton adds that state-of-the-art equipment, as well as the convenience of an adjacent parking lot and increased seating in the building’s waiting area, all enhance the JMH patient experience in the new facility.

All of the equipment in the imaging and lab area is either new or purchased within the last year or two,” Dutton says. “You have a new building and new equipment, and more convenience is a big feature of this project. Before, people would come in off of West Jefferson and go from the main entrance to the registration area before doing blood work or X-rays. It was a long hike. With the new building, you can park close and walk right in to register and get cared for.”

Ultimately, Dunkle feels the new facility allows the JMH staff to better serve the community amidst an accessible setting.

“The major thing is the ease of use for the public,” he says. “Before, our Breast Center wasn’t close to registration or the rest of medical imaging. It’s a much more user-friendly layout for the years to come. It’s exciting.”

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