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Hospital Opens New Wing

Virginia Hospital Center is set to open a new 530,000 square foot wing Saturday

Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the new 530,000 square foot wing of the Virginia Hospital Center, set to open Saturday.

"The practice of medicine has changed and so has the type of patient experience," said James Cole, president and CEO of the hospital.

The new $150 million tower houses a 60 percent larger emergency room than the old section of the hospital, complete with an X-ray room. In the old facility, emergency doctors had to share X-ray equipment, adding to the time it took to evaluate a patient.

Virginia Hospital center saw more than 42,000 emergency visits in 2003, according to hospital spokesperson Erin Curtain.

The new ER also contains 36 private treatment rooms equipped with sliding glass containment doors aimed at providing privacy and preventing the spread of infections from one patient to another. It also has two entrances to increase the ER's efficiency.

The new wing means a 75 percent jump in the hospital’s emergency capacity, something Curtain said planners of the hospital made a priority in light of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

THE EXTERIOR AND LOBBY look more like a hotel than hospital. Visitors coming through the main entrance will see gleaming white marble floors, colorful modern artwork from painter Robert Rector and lots of sunlight streaming through its high glass windows. The sound of rushing water fills the small atrium that joins the new wing with the old, poured from a long, black fountain running along one wall. Green grass and ferns give the atmosphere the added sense that visitors are walking through someone's outdoor Zen garden.

"The concept, from the beginning, was to come up with a structure that would reduce anxiety and enhance the healing process," Coles said.

Healing is the focus of the new wing's inpatient rehabilitation unit. The facility contains 20 beds for patients recuperating from joint replacement, strokes, heart operations other surgeries. The rooms are all private.

The new capacity of the hospital won't mean any parking trouble for visitors thanks to an extensive underground parking garage. It features 1,100 spaces with an elevator that brings people directly from the lot to the central lobby.

Yet the most important features of VHC's new facility are its state of the art operating rooms. One is specially designed for brain surgeons, 60 percent larger than any operating room in the old wing and fitted with plasma television monitors and the latest digital imaging equipment to allow doctors to navigate a patient's brain faster and in a less invasive manner than in the past.

"Most operating rooms are designed for general use, everything from a hernia operation on up through brain surgery but over the years, we developed space issues with those rooms," Dr. Donald Wright, a neuro-surgeon, said. "Neurology has gradually evolved in line with technology. On the plasma screens, we can call up any imaging work the patient has had done at the hospital and just page through them if we need to. It's convenient but it will also speed things up in the operating room."

THE NEW IMAGING EQUIPMENT also means brain surgery can be done with greater safety and efficiency. Prior to its use in operating rooms, neuro-surgeons used a dye test to get an image of patient's brain.

"What that requires us to do is package the patient up before we're sure if we're really finished, go back and look at the image and then decide if we need to continue further," Wright said. "This technology lets us see the images in the operating room."

The longer a patient is in surgery, Wright said, the greater chance there is for something to go wrong. Speeding up the imaging process could save lives.

Heart surgeons will also have an advantage in the new facility. A new cardiac catheterization lab-where doctors insert a probe into the heart through arteries in the groin to do another kind of imaging dye test- will give cardiologists the ability to integrate all of their data in one place to get a fuller picture of the heart.

"The beauty of our new system is that it puts everything into one provider service location so a doctor can have everything at his fingertips when deciding what kind of treatment a patient needs," said Dr. Antonio Parente, chief cardiologist. "In the old building, a doctor would have to go to different parts of hospital to get information but in the new center, you can see all of it on the same screen if you want."

To provide better out-patient care, the new wing also contains 50,400 square feet of office space on the second floor, so private practitioners can meet with their patients and recommend treatments. Then it's only a short walk downstairs to get to the hospital if that's what is needed.

The ribbon will be cut in front of the new hospital wing on Saturday. Patients will be moved into the facility the following week.