PORTLAND, Maine — A proposed $40 million project to add five new operating rooms at Maine Medical Center has won approval from the hospital’s parent organization and was given its first audience with the Portland Planning Board Tuesday.
The MaineHealth board of trustees voted on June 6 to support the expansion and renovation plan, joining the hospital’s board and paving the way for construction at MMC’s Bramhall Street campus. The proposed project still needs approval from the city and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
The expansion project would add five new operating suites and accompanying preparation and recovery areas on the rooftop of the hospital’s existing Bean building. It also would update the area where surgical equipment is prepared and sterilized for delivery to operating rooms and allow the hospital to develop an operating room dedicated to advanced heart surgeries.
Construction is due to begin this fall and wrap up by October 2014.
“The fact is that the added space will better enable Maine Medical Center to perform today’s complex procedures in a modern setting,” Jeffrey Sanders, the hospital’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a press release announcing the board approval. “The enhanced services we’ll be able to offer also give area residents a local option for even more best-in-class care and treatment.”
The plan would allow the hospital to alleviate pressure in its existing operating rooms, which today are performing surgeries at rates above industry norms, MMC said in the release.
MMC performs approximately 28,000 surgeries each year in its 34 operating rooms.
The existing operating rooms date to 1984, and at about 400 square feet, aren’t large enough for many modern surgeries, MMC has said. The new 650-square-foot rooms will be known as “interventional rooms” that can house not only surgeries, but other services as needed, such as radiology and cardiac catheterization.
The added space would better suit today’s complex procedures, including a cutting-edge operation offered as an alternative to traditional open heart surgery that requires both a cardiologist and a heart surgeon to be in the room at the same time, along with their staff, the hospital said.
“With today’s equipment, and the number of specialists required, and the technology needed for very sophisticated interventional activity, the rooms need to be bigger,” Dr. Brad Cushing, MMC chief of surgery, said in the release. “Our surgeons are already looking forward to more flexibility, both in terms of operating space and in scheduling procedures.”
The renovation marks the first stage of a master plan for the facility that was put in place a decade ago. Hospital leadership chose to scale back the project with plans to revisit it in several years, the release said.
Tuesday’s announcement came just a month after MMC declared a hiring and travel freeze in an attempt to plug a $13.4 million hole in the hospital’s operating budget. Hospital officials attributed the losses to declining patient volumes, a rise in the number of patients who can’t pay their medical bills, shrinking payments from Medicare and MaineCare, and a glitch in the launch of the hospital’s electronic health record system.
MMC isn’t the only hospital in Maine pursuing expansion plans despite lower patient volumes and $484 million owed to hospitals in overdue Medicaid bills dating to 2009. Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor recently revived plans to construct a seven-story tower at its State Street campus as part of a $250 million project, while MaineGeneral Health is building a new $322 million hospital in Augusta.
MMC is working closely with state and city officials and nearby neighborhood associations to minimize the effect on traffic and residents near the Bramhall campus, according to the release.
During a Tuesday afternoon planning board workshop, the expansion was greeted with positive reviews by board members and area residents.
Robert Hains of Holm Avenue told the board that his initial concerns about the size of the addition blocking views from other buildings and the potential of light pollution from the glass exterior were quelled by details of the proposal revealed by developers Tuesday.
“It seems rather innocuous in terms of its impact on this neighborhood or on the city,” Hains said.
Project architects on hand for the workshop said they would use sections of frittered glass — which includes thin horizontal lines — to diffuse the light escaping from the building, and noted that the 69-foot-tall structure would still be between two and four stories shorter than other hospital buildings on three sides of it.
“It looks like a great project. I don’t have a lot negative to say,” said planning board member Timothy Dean on Tuesday. “It seems like the height fits pretty well within the existing confines [of the hospital campus] and most of the impacts are to the hospital itself and not the neighboring properties.”
BDN Portland Bureau Chief Seth Koenig contributed to this story.