SAFETY HARBOR — Most of Mease Countryside Hospital was built in the 1980s when private rooms were often the domain of the most well-heeled patients.
Even with the addition of new buildings in later years, only 33 percent of the hospital’s beds were in single-patient rooms.
But patient privacy has become the standard for new hospitals in the past two decades and a necessity during the pandemic when hospitals needed to keep infected patients separated from others.
So the opening of the Bilheimer Tower, a new four-story patient building comes at a welcome time for administrators at the hospital, one of 15 Tampa Bay region facilities run by BayCare.
The tower is part of a $156 million addition to the hospital campus that also includes a parking garage. The 150,000 square-foot building will add more than 100 beds increasing the hospital’s overall number of beds to 387. Roughly 82 percent of those are now in private rooms.
Matt Novak, president of both Mease Countryside and Mease Dunedin hospitals, said the hospital had been operating at close to capacity as the surrounding population has grown. It plans to begin relocating patients into the new rooms next week.
“This allows us to grow and be positioned to care for the community for years to come,” he said
The top two floors house a total of 70 private rooms intended for general medical use such as for patients recovering from joint surgery. The top floor also includes a rehab gymnasium for patients who need physical therapy.
The second floor will house a critical care unit with 34 beds.
The hospital features numerous design details intended to make life easier for doctors, nurses and specialists, and more relaxing for patients. The hallways include alcoves with pull-down seats where nurses can work on their patient documentation without blocking the hallways. In the critical care unit, that alcove includes a window so doctors and nurses can check in on patients without disturbing them.
Critical care rooms also have a high-definition camera mounted in the ceiling so physicians working at a remote monitoring center can check in on patients overnight when there are fewer medical staff on the floor. The technology, known as Tele-Intensive Care Unit, is sophisticated enough that remote physicians can zoom in and see the irises of patients. It allows them to send a call to medical staffers on the floor if treatment or other action is needed.
Construction of the new facility was already well underway when the first coronavirus cases were diagnosed in Florida in early 2020. But the pandemic did prompt BayCare to amend the design for two of the floors, incorporating a “pandemic mode” air-conditioning option to control the flow of air from rooms housing infectious patients. If turned on, it gives the hospital 69 so-called “negative pressure” rooms where air is sucked out of the hospital and not recirculated.
The entrance to patient rooms also now have storage space for personal protective equipment, another lesson learned from the pandemic.
Designers have tried to try and make the rooms and hallways as welcoming as possible. Every room includes a sofa with a pull-out bed for visiting loved-ones and family members. Hallways are carpeted and have windows to provide natural light.
“You want a warm environment,” Novak said. “You don’t want people to be afraid.”
The first floor includes a 30-room observation unit for emergency room patients whose condition may not be critical enough to be admitted but who doctors would like to keep an eye on before discharging. That could include patients with asthma attacks, dizziness and chest pains that are not linked to heart issues.
Previously, those patients would have occupied needed ER beds or been admitted and discharged the same day, a costly and time consuming option for patient and medical staffers, Novak said. Typically only 20 to 30 percent of patients being observed will end up being admitted.
“We wanted to find the most efficient way to care for these patients,” he said.
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