TRINITY — When staffers shut down Community Hospital on Tuesday and moved patients to the Medical Center of Trinity, it was as if they had done it before.
Probably because they had, at least in practice.
"Moving a hospital is like changing the engine of an airplane while it's still in flight," said Nancy Bowen, a consultant with Healthcare Transitions, which was hired to help hospital officials coordinate the move from the New Port Richey hospital. One by one, more than 100 patients were wheeled onto cots and loaded onto waiting ambulances, which took them 51/2 miles to the Trinity campus.
"Nothing can stop, and nothing can go wrong," Bowen said. "It takes months and months of planning, and that's what the staff of this hospital has done."
Though the actual move was completed in a day, the hospital began the process a year ago. Staffers had at least two dress rehearsals moving pretend patients in ambulances and troubleshooting fictional scenarios that they might encounter. They even sent staffers to watch another hospital complete its move.
As part of the planning, staffers divided into teams that dealt with various aspects of a move, from checking transportation routes and coordinating with ambulance services to making sure the soap dispensers and nurse call buttons were in place in each room.
The result was a flawless transition that began in the wee hours of Tuesday, when the nursing director decided the order in which patients should be moved.
It culminated in the cutting of an oversized red ribbon by Robert Frank, who was the first patient admitted to the new hospital. Officials chose him from among a handful of patients deemed healthy enough by their doctors.
"At first I thought they were joking," said the 58-year-old postal clerk from New Port Richey.
Paralyzed years ago in a car accident, he entered the hospital a few days ago for an infection. He deemed the accommodations "state of the art."
"The beds are really comfortable," he said. "I can't wait to go to sleep."
Nursing students from Rasmussen College helped direct traffic down the halls. Once in one of the 236 private rooms, each patient had fresh flowers and an information packet that included how to report any feedback. It even included the cell phone number of hospital CEO Leigh Massengill.
"Everything has been going as planned," said Massengill, who was up well before dawn for the move.
As of 12:30 p.m., 70 patients and one baby had been moved. By 3:30 p.m., all but three of the 112 patients were in the new hospital.
Bowen, who helped in the move of Walter Reed Army Medical Center last year to two facilities in Maryland and Virginia, said moving a hospital has to be broken down into manageable chunks.
"If you think about picking up and moving, it's almost overwhelming," she said. "This team did an excellent job making sure nothing fell through the cracks."
In addition to news crews, the hospital had another audience. A team from University Medical Center of Princeton in New Jersey sent crews to observe and take away lessons for its upcoming move to a new campus in May. Trinity staffers also visited a hospital in Virginia last year to observe its move.
Crews covered up the main entrance sign at Community Hospital, which was once considered state of the art when it opened in 1971. Massengill said the staff likely would have some sort of decommissioning ceremony for the old hospital, though part of it will continue to provide psychiatric services as well as physical and occupational therapy.
"Some people have spent their entire careers there," Massengill said. "They need a sense of closure. There's a lot of emotion."
Staffers have been anticipating the new hospital opening since 2002. That's when Community won a legal battle with rival Morton Plant North Bay to move to the Trinity area, which is home to million dollar homes and strategically located near the borders of Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
The hospital, owned by for-profit Healthcare Corporation of America of Nashville, was supposed to have opened late in 2011, but inspections from state regulators delayed it for a few months.
Non-profit rival North Bay, which recommitted itself to caring for New Port Richey as the city's only hospital, embarked on a massive expansion that involved nearly doubling its size, expanding its emergency room and cardiac care. Last year it broke ground on new, larger operating rooms. Executive say they are already starting to examine the need for a larger emergency room to handle the influx of patients created by Trinity's move.
"We started seeing an increase in traffic a little bit early yesterday," said Hal Ziecheck, North Bay's chief operating officer. He said the ER normally sees 80 to 90 patients a day but reported 116 on Monday. As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, 70 patients had visited the ER since midnight.
"Our hospital is filling up, and we're prepared," he said.
North Bay recently stepped up its marketing by taking out billboards in the New Port Richey area.
It also started a new website: