Wednesday, January 14, 2009

John Muir hospital expansions on schedule

The economy is foundering and construction projects everywhere have come to a halt until things get better. Yet major expansions at John Muir Medical Center's Walnut Creek and Concord campuses continue — they're even on schedule.

Massive efforts to rebuild emergency departments, add private patient rooms and build a renowned heart center are under way, evident to anyone driving by either the Ygnacio Valley Road campus in Walnut Creek or the East Street complex in Concord. On Friday afternoon, workers moved the last steel beam into place at the Concord facility, while those tracking the massive project looked on.

"This is something positive that we can all look at — it's a true effort to meet the area's needs at a time when there's a little bit of negativity out there" spurred by the weak economy, said Dr. Michael Levine of the John Muir Health Foundation.

Together, the projects will cost $800 million. The foundation's goal is to raise $56 million in donations by 2011; so far, the group has about $28.6 million, and it's redoubling its efforts to reach volunteers and potential donors. About $27.6 million of that money has been earmarked for the Walnut Creek site, while $1 million is designated for a new patient rooms at the Concord hospital.

In Walnut Creek, a five-story, 350,000-square-foot building will hold 230 new private patient rooms, and the hospital's total number of beds will go from 324 to 416 by the time the AdvertisementThomas J. and Muriel T. Long Patient Care Tower is finished in late 2010.

This project will cost about $600 million when all is said and done, said Michael Monaldo, vice president of facilities development for John Muir Health Systems.

There will also be two more surgical suites, 12 new critical-care beds, twice as many emergency stations in the ER and a new helipad and high-speed elevator, along with a multilevel parking garage.

The Concord center will become home to the long-discussed John Muir Cardiovascular Institute, a five-story, 175,000-square-foot tower that will include 12 private cardiovascular intensive care beds, 49 telemetry beds for monitoring cardiac patients, four cardiac catheterization labs and 12 recovery beds.

The remodel, which Monaldo said will be finished in summer 2010, also includes an expanded emergency department with a new satellite imaging center and a dedicated chest pain/observation unit. The current 8,000-square-foot ER is designed for only half of the 50,000 patients it treats annually, hospital officials said. When the new ER opens, it will be twice the size of the old one.

The Concord expansion has been long in the making.

When the bill for the expansion reached $200 million in 2006 — double the 2004 estimate — John Muir's directors tinkered with the plans to shave off some of the cost. They considered shrinking the tower by two floors in order to save money, but decided that to rework plans would be just as costly as going ahead with the original layout. Instead, John Muir directors opted to build the tower as planned, but leave the top two levels empty shells available for future expansion.

In the end, the Concord project will cost about $170 million.

Together, John Muir Medical Center's campus expansions comprise one of the largest construction projects in Contra Costa County, Levine said.

"There's never been a greater need for our hospitals," he said. "This will make a big difference."

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating should contact Kimberly Low at or 925-947-4495.

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