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Sunday focus: Plans move forward to merge hospitals

The nursing station at the Natchez Regional Medical Center emergency department, at top, is one of the area that will soon be renovated by Community Health Systems. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

The nursing station at the Natchez Regional Medical Center emergency department, at top, is one of the area that will soon be renovated by Community Health Systems. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The fourth floor of Natchez Regional Medical Center hasn’t seen any real action in years. It’s been used for storage, mostly, and the floors, walls and even ceilings bear the markings of benign neglect, scrapes and discolorations left untouched because the general public wasn’t accessing the area.

But that’s about to change. For a long time, the hospital hasn’t had the patient census to support the extra beds, because of the market divided between NRMC and its once-competitor, Natchez Community Hospital.

Now under joint ownership, the hospitals are moving toward consolidation at one campus, and that means re-opening the fourth floor at Regional.

The hospital has cleared the last bureaucratic hurdle to start construction — approval of its construction plans by the Mississippi Department of Health Licensure and Certification Division — and work is now under way.

When it’s completed, the hospital will have 99-staffed beds. Both Natchez hospitals have a combined average daily census of approximately 80 patients, said Eric Robinson, chief executive officer of Natchez Regional and Natchez Community hospitals.

“We will have the 99-staffed beds, but we will have more available if we need them,” Robinson said.

The work will include overhauls of the emergency department, the third floor labor and delivery areas and the fourth floor. A total of approximately $12 million will be invested in 34,000 square feet.

Emergency Room

The two hospitals served more than 29,000 patients in their emergency departments last year. To accommodate that kind of volume into one building, the emergency department at Regional will be remodeled to have 14 exam rooms and a four-bed “fast track” area for those who check into the emergency room with non-emergency situations.

The fast track area will be designed so that non-emergency cases can flow from the waiting room to admitting and then treatment and exiting without ever having to enter the emergency treatment area, Robinson said.

The renovations in the emergency room will be done in two phases.

The first phase will overhaul the waiting area, registration patient rooms and support services in the back of the emergency department. The construction phase will reduce the bed count in the emergency room at Regional to five, but Natchez Community will continue to offer full emergency room support until the consolidation is completed.

The second phase will include fixes to the triage area, the nurses’ station and the remainder of the exam rooms.

Robinson said offices and the break room will be removed from the treatment area, and the nurses’ station will be moved to allow for a better flow of movement.

While the construction is ongoing, a portion of the parking areas will be used for construction setup.

Labor and Delivery

Construction in the third floor labor and delivery areas won’t have to be done in phases because all obstetric services have been temporarily transferred to Natchez Community.

“They are going to be able to go in and knock it out without having to work around patients,” Robinson said.

When the work is completed, the hospital will have five labor and delivery suites — an addition of two — and one room designated for Caesarian sections. It previously had a second C-section room that was largely unused.

“We looked at it an evaluated that we are going to use that fifth labor and delivery room more than that C-section room,” Robinson said.

The work will include an enlargement of the waiting room and new furniture in the 14 post-partum rooms.

One of the biggest changes in the labor and delivery department will be making the post-partum rooms on the west side of the building larger.

“For every three rooms we are going to take them and make two and add a shower,” Robinson said. “The rooms on the street side of the building have showers, but at the time the building was built, I guess it wasn’t standard practice to put showers in each room, but we are going to do that now.”

The fourth floor

Like in the labor and delivery department, all of the rooms in the fourth floor will be renovated, and some rooms will have showers installed. The nurses’ station will be upgraded, as will visitor areas.

Some of the rooms on the fourth floor will have remote monitoring equipment for cardiac and other patients.

In addition to work on the inside of the building, observers will see crews install a temporary lift elevator on the front of the building for the transportation of construction materials in a way that won’t disturb patients, Robinson said.

Timelines

Robinson said the first phase of the emergency room work should be done by late August.

The entire renovation project should be done by the end of the year, he said.

“This is a very exciting time for us,” Robinson said.

While the work is ongoing, hospital officials said they will post updated signage and will announce any changes to services throughout the process.

The hospital has posted a website for residents to track progress online at bettertogethernatchez.com.

NRMC is licensed for 179 beds, while Natchez Community is licensed for 101 beds. NRMC was formerly owned by Adams County, while Health Management Associates previously owned Natchez Community.

Subsidiaries of Community Health Systems purchased both hospitals separately in 2014 and announced the plans for consolidation shortly after the purchase of NRMC was completed in October.

No plans have been announced for the Natchez Community facility post-consolidation.

 

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