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State OKs $22.7M expansion for BMH

New four-story building is project's centerpiece

BRATTLEBORO—State regulators have approved a $22.7 million expansion project designed to address “current and future facility needs” at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

The project’s centerpiece is a new, four-story, 20,180-square-foot building that will house bigger operating rooms, relocated medical offices, and an expanded cardiac rehabilitation area.

The changes aren’t expected to significantly boost patient numbers at BMH; in fact, the Green Mountain Care Board said the project will slightly reduce the hospital’s operating margin for the next several years.

But the care board decided that the project meets numerous medical needs.

“We are persuaded that the project will improve both access to and quality of health care provided to residents of the hospital’s service area,” board members wrote in a decision dated Oct. 2.

Steve Gordon, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer, hailed the project as “a significant investment in our future and an exciting time not only for staff, but our community as a whole.”

Gordon and other Brattleboro Memorial Hospital administrators have been working to implement a master plan approved in 2009.

In a presentation last month before the Green Mountain Care Board, administrators noted several improvements made over the last six years including expansion of the emergency department and front lobby; installation of a fixed MRI; creation of a new data center and centralized information technology services; and construction of a conference center.

Hospital leaders expect to finance their latest expansion project with $10 million in tax-exempt bonds and $12.7 million in equity. That equity includes a $6 million bequest from Brattleboro resident Ronald Read.

Read, whose name will adorn the new building at the hospital’s Belmont Avenue campus, led an unassuming life but quietly amassed a fortune. When he died in 2014, Read made national news by leaving millions of dollars to the hospital and to Brooks Memorial Library.

Ronald Read Pavilion is slated to take the place of a two-story building that will be demolished. Brattleboro Memorial’s project also features “renovation of 6,518 square feet of vacated space and 4,809 square feet of connecting hallways from the main hospital to the new building, and replacement of three boilers that provide the heating and cooling for the hospital complex,” care board members wrote.

The care board, after months of consideration, decided those plans made sense.

“For the past several years, the hospital has researched and planned for needed upgrades to the facility and boiler plant, and designed the project in light of space constraints on the hospital campus,” board members wrote. “There is also no less expensive alternative to achieve each of the hospital’s identified needs.”

Those needs, according to the hospital and the care board, include:

• Larger, modernized surgical services.

The Read pavilion will host a new operating room suite. The hospital’s three current operating rooms are too small and are located above the boiler plant, causing “unacceptable temperature fluctuations in the [operating rooms] and vibrations felt ... whenever the boilers go on and off,” state documents say.

The hospital also is expecting to add three new pre- and post-op beds, which are “necessary to improve flow and flexibility to accommodate current [patient] volumes.”

• An improved central sterile processing area.

That processing area now is housed in a “cramped space along a hallway,” documents say, and the configuration “permits sterile and dirty surgical equipment to travel along the same hallways as patients going to and from the [operating rooms], endoscopy, and minor procedure rooms, thus increasing the risk of infection.”

The new space will be more efficient and will meet current standards, officials said.

• A bigger cardiac rehabilitation area.

The new rehab center in the Read pavilion will allow sufficient space for equipment, patient monitoring, education, changing rooms and rest rooms.

• Reconfigured medical offices and exam rooms.

BMH will be shuffling several medical practices on its campus. Brattleboro Internal Medicine will be housed in the new Read pavilion, while Brattleboro Family Medicine and Maplewood Family Practice will take over internal medicine’s vacated space in the Gannett Building, state documents show.

Those changes will improve patient access and allow for “the flexible use of staff and sharing of common areas,” officials wrote.

In addition to the project’s benefits for patients, the care board found that BMH’s plans “should assist with recruitment of physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants needed to maintain strong primary care and surgical services.”

The Green Mountain Care Board’s approval is not the last hurdle for the hospital’s expansion project. Administrators said they now will finalize architectural plans, prepare for construction bids, and initiate local and state Act 250 permitting processes.

If all goes well, construction could start next spring and end in fall 2019, hospital spokeswoman Gina Pattison said.

Pattison added that the work shouldn’t cause any significant disruptions. “We are looking at off-site parking for the construction crew so that they do not occupy spaces in the hospital parking lot,” she said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #431 (Wednesday, October 25, 2017). This story appeared on page A4.

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