BANGOR, Maine — Maine’s second-largest hospital broke ground Tuesday on what one official called “the most important project in its history.”
Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems President and CEO Michelle Hood said during a ceremony held on the footprint of the future 7-story, $247 million facility at Eastern Maine Medical Center that “there will always be need for a strong, modern, efficient center,” the linchpin of a growing health care system.
More than a dozen EMHS, hospital, city and Cianbro Corp. officials broke ground on the site of the construction Tuesday morning.
The expansion effort is being funded through a combination of $155 million in bonds, $11 million from a MaineCare settlement with the state, more than $100 million in operations cash and equity and about $20 million in private fundraising, according to Brad Coffey, vice president of philanthropy.
In addition to the $247 million expansion, the hospital expects to spend about $40 million on replacement equipment during the course of the upgrades, Coffey said. The hospital currently has about 350 beds, but will be able to fully operate up to its license of 411 after the expansion, which will decrease patient wait times, officials say.
The new building will house modern surgical spaces, cardiac services, obstetrics, nurseries and neonatal services, as well as more private, single-patient rooms, and give the hospital more room to grow, according to hospital officials.
“The new building will allow us to provide much better space for [specific] services that we provide so that we can better care for patients with very serious illnesses and injuries,” hospital president and CEO Deborah Johnson said during the event. “It will provide new operating rooms, new neonatal intensive care units, new labor and delivery suites and cardiac services.”
Officials hope to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new building in about 2½ years.
Liane Judd, chairwoman of the hospital’s board of trustees, likened this expansion decision to the one hospital officials made in the early 1970s to build “what seemed to be then an outrageously large inpatient tower,” the Grant building.
“Looking back, was it the right decision? Of course it was,” Judd said.
Jeremy Martin, head of Bangor’s code enforcement department, also stepped up to speak during Tuesday’s ceremony about his experience at the hospital over the past six months.
In March of this year, Martin and his 10-year-old daughter were on a skiing trip at Sugarloaf Mountain. Martin’s daughter crashed into a tree, suffering serious injuries, including a skull fracture and traumatic brain injury.
LifeFlight flew Martin and his daughter to EMMC, where she underwent surgery. After 11 days, the girl was able to breathe on her own again. She spoke 14 days after her accident and then began relearning how to walk and write. Tuesday was also his daughter’s first day back at school.
Martin congratulated the hospital on its expansion and thanked all the medical staff who helped his daughter in recent months.
EMHS’ board authorized the project in November, nearly five years after it was approved through the state’s Certificate of Need process in 2008.
The hospital is expanding away from its main campus as well.
Bangor City Councilors recently approved a land sale in the Maine Business Enterprise Park that will allow Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems to build a $5.25 million medical office building to house EMMC primary care providers. EMHS officials have said health care institutions need to place more focus on preventative care services — keeping potential patients out of hospital rooms.
Judd said that regardless of the increasing focus on prevention, more people in the region are getting older and EMMC will need more rooms and updated facilities for the patients who are sick enough to require them.
“At a time when there is so much turbulence in health care, taking on a project of this scope is monumental,” said Judd. “We know that a 40-year-old design and physical plant cannot support the work we need to do, and we know that the region is counting on us to make the right decision to sustain the availability of modern health care here.”