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Friday, May 6, 2016

White River Medical Center opens new wing

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Workers are rushing to put the finishing touches on a $35 million addition to the White River Medical Center in Batesville. The cafeteria dining area these painters were touching up on July 11, opened on Saturday, July 14. Patients will move into 60 new rooms at the end of the month. the WRMC serves a five county region including Sharp, Fulton and Izard Counties. Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
The White River Medical Center's three year plan to up grade and modernize its Batesville facility is ready to take a big step forward. Patients and visitors from the five counties it serves -- Independence, Sharp, Izard, Fulton and Stone Counties -- will soon see a very different WRMC.

On Saturday, July 28 the hospital plans to move patients in to its brand new four story, 97,000 square foot addition.

"They are really coming along on it," a hospital visitor yelled out as he walked along the chain link fence separating the $35 million dollar building from the main parking lot.

Inside the new facility on July 11, a tour revealed that 13 months of construction were coming to an end -- but there were still workers everywhere, making noise with their hammers, drills and saws in a final push to finish up.

"We've been working on this project for 18 months, and are just a week and a half behind schedule," said Robert Wright, WRMC's acting facilities planner. "The new pharmacy area is already finished, and on Saturday (July 14) we'll open the lobby and dietary."

The entrance to the wing, on the east side of the hospital, will serve as the new main entrance to the hospital. It features a large, multi-lane driveway to improve traffic flow in an area where many vehicles will be stopping to let out patients and visitors.

A large lobby area will be home to a larger gift shop, and lead to the hospital's new kitchen and cafeteria. There are 30 private rooms on the second floor, office space on the third floor and another 30 patient rooms on the fourth floor.

"We consulted with hospitals involved in the Pebble Project as we designed the project," Sheila Mace, WRMC Public Relations Coordinator, told The News. "It is a research group that studies hospital design and best practices to improve care by making hospitals more efficient."

Hospital employees traveled to hospitals involved in the Pebble Project to see new innovations, and were involved in the final design of the new area.

The two patient floors look very different from most hospitals. Instead of one or two large nursing stations, there are six stations on each floor, containing large elevated desks called nursing perches. Behind the perches are counters, cabinets, refrigerators and microwaves. Each station is positioned so that nurses can see the rooms they are assigned to.

"Everything the patient might need is centrally located, so the nurses don't have to go to the other end of the hall for linens, for medicines, for nourishment, water and ice. It is all located right here," Mace said.

All patient rooms are laid out identically, allowing nurses and other staff to work more efficiently, since they know where everything is, no matter what room they are in.

"This area is for our gourmet Morning Side coffee bar, this will be the pizza bar, with a Subway restaurant next to it," said chef Kevin Gee, as he proudly showed off the dining area, where all kinds of food choices will be available. The back half of the serving area will offer what Gee called "homestyle cooking," with stir fries, casseroles, sandwiches and complete dinners.

Those who eat in will feel like they are in a fine restaurant, which will seat 184 inside, and another 34 in an outdoor sitting area.

"This will be one of the most safe kitchens in the state of Arkansas," Gee said as he pointed out the latest restaurant equipment to grill, fry, bake, steam and smoke, along with food storage units designed to keep food at the proper temperature.

The kitchen is equipped with a high tech dishwashing system, along with a food cart sanitizing system.

"The kitchen is a lot bigger than the old one," Lisa Wood, a 22 year food service employee, said. "It is going to be easier to work here."

Wood and other dietary department workers were getting an orientation on July 11, preparing for the move to the new kitchen two days later.

As the new building opens, crews will begin Phase Two -- working to renovate old patient floors, as patients move into the new space. Others will work on a new patient registration area, just off the new lobby, and surgery prep and recovery areas.

That will lead to Phase 3, a major expansion of the hospital's emergency room -- the main reason this huge project began in the first place.

"One of the driving forces of this project is the expansion of our emergency department," Wright said. "To expand the emergency department, we have to move our ambulatory care, and to move ambulatory care, we have to move dietary. To move dietary, we had to build here (the new section). So, it's just a series of dominos."

The ER work is critical, since the current space -- designed to treat 15,000 to 20,000 patients a year -- now sees 30,000 to 35,000 patients a year.

"We are extremely proud of this, because we work here," Mace said. "But the whole region we serve got behind this. We raised $6.5 million through community donations, our employees contributed $763,000 and we received a half a million dollars from our volunteers. People have responded incredibly generously."

Besides offering better medical care in more comfortable surroundings, the ongoing improvements have created many construction jobs, and will lead to an estimated 270 new hospital jobs over the next five years.

One of Fulton County's newest residents is keeping a close eye on the Batesville project. Tony Thompson, the new CEO of the Fulton County Hospital, was the assistant administrator of WRMC, and oversaw most of the project as the hospital's facility planner.

"That was a grassroots project, where we developed the project from the bottom up," Thompson said. "I think it is an outstanding development."

Thompson is especially interested in seeing a non-medical feature of the project. An atrium allows light to shine down four stories into the cafeteria. A piece of artwork made by a California artist, a 40 foot mobile, will hang in the atrium.

It arrived at the hospital last week, and was on display for the July 14 cafeteria opening.

"There will be live plants under the atrium and, with the artwork and sunlight coming in, I can't wait to see how it turned out," Thompson said.

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