UMC opens $26 million patient tower


By JENNIFER HORTONThe Wilson Post

Many in the community realized a dream long held with the official opening of the new four-story Patient Tower at University Medical Center on Tuesday.

A standing-parking lot-only crowd – all the chairs were filled – gathered to watch as hospital officials, physicians, volunteers and community members cut the ribbon opening the $26 million facility.

Vince Cherry, chief executive officer of UMC, told the crowd that “a little over a year ago, I stood in the employee parking lot and promised to build a state-of-the-art facility. Today, we’re here to officially celebrate that.”  The new four-story Patient Tower at University Medical Center.  JOHN B. BRYAN/ The Wilson Post

He noted that UMC received a certificate of occupancy for the Patient Tower on Monday. A few things still need to be completed before patients begin moving in, but Anna-Lee Cockrill, director of Business Development and Marketing at UMC, said patients will likely begin moving in next Monday.

The new facility is 77,000 square feet in size and has 60 new private patient rooms, outpatient rehab space, a new entry/drop-off area, lower entrance level lobby, support space and shelled space for future expansion.

Cherry said that work will begin immediately on retrofitting patient rooms in the original part of the hospital so that they will also be private rooms, and work is also slated to begin on renovating the Intensive Care Unit.

“Do you see a pattern here?” he asked the crowd.

The Surgical Floor, which includes the Orthopaedic Center of Excellence, will be housed on the first floor. It connects to the Emergency Department, Radiology and Surgical areas directly to surgical patients for better flow.

The Medical Floor will be located on the second floor. The third floor is shelled space for future use as the county continues to grow.

Outpatient Rehab/Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine are located on the ground floor.

Dr. Scott Baker, chief of staff at UMC, thanked the community for its support and called the grand opening and ribbon cutting a “celebration of merged dreams” of physicians, staff and officials with Health Management Associates, Inc., or HMA, University Medical Center’s parent company.

Ann Barnhart, senior vice president of Operations for HMA, told the crowd that she was attending her third major event in three years at UMC, noting she was on hand previously for the Emergency Department renovations, groundbreaking for the new Patient Tower and then for its grand opening.

She noted that through her career in health care and working at a hospital in a small town, “I grew to become more passionate about the role community hospitals play.” She added, “We provide personalized care with a state-of-the-art facility.”

Barnhart told the crowd that the work at UMC is not stopping and that other projects are in the planning stage.

“This is really a new great jumping point for this hospital,” said Jon Vollmer, executive vice president of Operations for HMA. “I believe this is one of the best quality jobs you’ll see.”

He noted that Wilson County has not been immune to the economic downturn with three companies locally having to lay off workers, but the opening of the new Patient Tower should “help improve the overall economic viability of the community.”

Echoing Vollmer’s remarks, Kelly Curry, chief administrative officer of HMA, said, “It takes guts to spend money in an economy like this.”

Curry noted that HMA in the first quarter of this year spent $65 million, an increase above the more than $40 million spent in the first quarter of 2008.

Completion of the Patient Tower means that HMA has spent $56 million renovating UMC since the company purchased the hospital in 2003. Curry noted that HMA paid $61 million for the hospital so the company has nearly doubled its investment in UMC.

And he reiterated that work will continue on improving facilities at the hospital. Curry told a nurse who works in the ICU to tell everyone there “I approved the ICU (plans) today.”

Sam Hatcher, chair of the UMC Board of Trustees and chief executive officer of MainStreet Media, parent of The Wilson Post, told the crowd that some of them who were natives have seen the progress of health care here.

“This sort of represents the history of health care in Wilson County. They are as proud of this facility as I am,” he said of the new Patient Tower, noting some in the audience might remember the old McFarland Hospital which served the community for many years. (UMC purchased the hospital several years ago and it now operates as McFarland Specialty Hospital, housing rehab services.)

He said he thought it was important to “protect our identity as a community, and I know of no better way” than to point to such things that make a community stand out such as hospitals like UMC, institutions of higher learning such as Cumberland University and so on.

With that, officials gathered to cut the ribbon and the crowd went inside the new Patient Tower for a tour and refreshments.

 Editor Jennifer Horton may be contacted at news@wilsonpost.com.