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An artist’s rendering of a planned expansion of the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital campus.

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Brattleboro Memorial Hospital plans $22.7M expansion

Bequest from longtime resident accelerated the project, which includes a new four-story building

BRATTLEBORO—For years, administrators have been planning a large-scale upgrade of the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital campus to address long-term needs.

But those efforts got a big boost in 2014, when Brattleboro resident Ronald Read bequeathed $6 million to the hospital.

Now, that money will play a significant role in a proposed $22.7 million, four-story expansion that is expected to house new operating rooms, medical offices, and cardiopulmonary rehabilitation facilities.

The hospital has filed paperwork for state approval of the project, which bears Read’s name and could go to construction later this year.

“We hope to honor Mr. Ronald Read with a lasting contribution to quality healthcare in the Brattleboro community,” Steve Gordon, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer, wrote in a letter to the Green Mountain Care Board.

Eight years ago, Brattleboro Memorial developed a master plan for short- and long-term improvements. Some of those changes — including a renovated Emergency Department, new data center and new conference rooms — already are complete.

What remained were “long-term, high priority” projects deemed necessary for the 61-bed hospital.

Through his will, Read provided an unexpected jump-start for those projects.

Surprise gift

The Dummerston native, described in his obituary as a hard-working outdoorsman and a “Jack of all trades,” lived a quiet life but made national headlines when he left millions of dollars to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Brooks Memorial Library after his June 2014 death.

In documents filed with the state, Gordon wrote that Read’s $6 million will be combined with $6 million in “working capital” and an expected $10 million bond to finance the new expansion project. Federal New Market Tax Credits also could figure into the mix.

The hospital isn’t planning a capital campaign to raise money for the effort, said Gina Pattison, development and community relations director.

There are four main elements of the Ronald Read Pavilion Modernization Project as outlined in the hospital’s application to the Green Mountain Care Board. Three of those elements will be housed inside a new, four-story building with a 5,045 square-foot footprint in the center of the hospital’s campus:

• Surgical services

Gordon’s letter says the structure housing Brattleboro Memorial Hospital’s three operating rooms dates to 1950, while a central sterile processing facility and other support services are in a building constructed in 1964.

While there have been renovations to accommodate increased patient volumes and changes in technology, the operating rooms have “major limitations,” Gordon wrote. They are undersized, for example, and are situated directly over the hospital’s boiler room, which leads to temperature fluctuations and vibrations.

“These [operating rooms] must be replaced to provide the safest, most efficient care and to support our efforts to retain and attract qualified surgeons,” Gordon wrote.

Massive upgrade

The hospital’s new central sterile processing area will be placed in a larger space directly below the operating rooms.

• Medical offices

Hospital officials want to relocate internal medicine, urology, and general surgery practices into two floors of the new building. Currently, those practices operate in former residences near the hospital.

BMH expects to create “larger, more modern and efficient space specifically designed for the practice of medicine and delivery of outpatient care,” state documents show.

• Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation

Hospital documents say the current rehab area “is in a cramped, undersized suite that struggles to accommodate current volumes.”

Administrators are planning a facility that is 700 square feet larger and includes patient changing rooms and bathrooms, as well as more space between exercise and monitoring equipment.

Also included in the project are new boilers, which will be housed in the current boiler plant. Gordon dubs this work “essential,” given that the campus’s boilers “were installed in 1979 and are now functioning beyond their expected life.”

The new boilers also will burn a different type of fuel oil deemed more cost-effective and “the least disruptive to our closest neighbors.”

BMH requires a certificate of need from the Green Mountain Care Board before proceeding with the expansion. The care board has posted a public notice of the application, which is now in a 90-day review period.

The board will hold a hearing on the application before issuing a decision.

If all goes as planned, Gordon’s letter says he is hoping to start construction in late 2017 and finish the project in 2019. In spite of the scope and location of the work, Pattison said administrators “do not anticipate disruptions” to patient services or parking during the job.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #390 (Wednesday, January 11, 2017). This story appeared on page A1.

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