1. Business

Oak Hill Hospital is building with room to grow

SPRING HILL — Mickey Smith likes to start tours of Oak Hill Hospital's major expansion project with a bird's-eye view.

The hospital's chief executive leads visitors to the roof of the existing six-story hospital, past a roaring air-conditioning unit the size of a garbage truck to a railing along the northern edge.

"You can begin to get a sense of the footprint," Smith said one recent, unseasonably warm winter day, his suit jacket blowing in a stiff wind.

Down below, workers in a sandbox-like hole the size of a couple of football fields used a towering crane to guide steel rods into concrete footers. It's the start of a two-story, 70,000-square-foot addition that will house eight operating room suites and 36 private patient rooms.

The $50 million project features an expanded postanesthesia care unit, a new family lounge for surgery patients and renovations to about 30,000 existing square feet that include the endoscopy and bronchoscopy suites. The hospital will also get new chillers, boilers and cooling towers, and 115 additional parking spaces.

Owned by Tennessee-based HCA, Oak Hill calls the addition a "bed tower" because the building will eventually rise four more stories — to six. Ask Smith to offer a ballpark time line for when the additional floors will be built, though, and he smiles.

"You tell me what the population growth is going to be, what the availability of funding is going to be and what is going to happen with insurance in this country, and I'll give you a timetable," he said.

The need for the additional operating suites and recovery rooms, however, is pressing now.

For the last couple of years, the hospital has been running beyond capacity. One recent week, for example, the 234-bed hospital had 240 patients, Smith said.

The volume has required an evening shift for surgeries, a practice that will end when the addition opens, Smith said.

Once the project is completed in the fall of 2013, Oak Hill will have a total of 262 acute care beds, making it the largest medical facility in Hernando and Citrus counties.

The architect is Gould Turner Group Inc. of Nashville, Tenn. General contractor Brasfield & Gorrie, also based in Nashville, has completed about 30 construction jobs for HCA during the past decade.

Roughly 34 subcontractors are expected to work on the job, said project superintendent Dan Mortimer. The construction portion of the price tag is $31 million, and about 75 percent of the labor is going to companies within a two-hour drive of the hospital, Mortimer said. There are several Hernando County companies working on the project, and the ballpark dollar figure for materials and labor from Hernando County is $6 million.

Every worker who sets foot on the site is issued a hard hat sticker to keep for as long as he's on the job. By last week, 350 stickers had been distributed, and that number could rise to as high as 800 by the time the project is complete, Mortimer said.

Some members of a local sheet metal workers union have been picketing the hospital in recent months. There are three unionized contractors on the project, said project manager Brig Eastman.

"There's a lot of local labor-finding agencies that are getting a lot of work on this job," Eastman said.

The project is expected to create jobs for an additional 71 hospital employees, plus another 50 jobs in the local market, according to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. The combined jobs will create an average of $5.4 million in personal income annually and contribute about $6.8 million to the gross county product.

The expansion marks the largest capital investment for a Hernando County hospital since Health Management Associates spent $53 million for Brooksville Regional's 183,000-square-foot hospital that opened in 2005.

Both Brooksville Regional and Spring Hill Regional hospitals currently have enough space to operate, but changes are afoot under their existing roofs, too, said Patrick Maloney, chief executive officer for both hospitals.

Spring Hill Regional will soon have a dedicated unit for orthopedic patients like the one already at Brooksville. The company just purchased a specialized piece of equipment that provides a less invasive method for knee replacements. Spring Hill also has a new angiography suite.

Both hospitals continue to replace agency nurses who work on contract with full-time nurses, and there is a renewed focus on serving seniors at Spring Hill, Maloney said. Nurses are being trained in elderly-specific care.

"Spring Hill has been marketed for years as a mother/baby hospital," he said, "but we're also going to focus on geriatrics and let the community know we're here to provide those services."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or