Parkridge hospital sparkles in first employee tours

jholleman@thestate.comFebruary 25, 2014 

The first impression of Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge is how it looks – from the manmade stream rolling over rocks in the parking area to the curved lines that dominate the architecture to the natural color schemes throughout the building.

“It’s gorgeous,” said Taracia Williamson, one of the hundreds of Palmetto Health employees exploring the building Tuesday in the first employee tours.

There are plenty of important details about the Midlands’ newest hospital: 5 floors, 6 delivery rooms, 16 emergency department bays, 36 rocking chairs spread throughout the building, 76 total beds, $125 million construction cost, 300,000 square feet.

But the first tours weren’t about that stuff. They were about the initial emotional impression, and the response was a universal wide-eyed “Wow.”

“We’re wishing we were working here,” said Debbie Brazell, who walked through with Williamson, her co-worker at the Palmetto Health business office on Greystone Boulevard.

“I love it,” said Delaney Harris, a nurse tech at Palmetto Health Baptist downtown who, when she finishes nursing school, thinks she would like to work at the sparkling new Parkridge facility closer to her Irmo home. “Everything is top of the line. The technology is amazing. I like the way things are organized. It’s going to be more streamlined. I’m excited to see it in action.”

When it’ll be in action is still a moving target. The employee tours will be followed Saturday by a public open house. Officially, the opening is a squishy “mid-March,” depending on how long S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control inspections take.

The project actually is two gently curved buildings – the hospital at 400 Palmetto Health Parkway and physician offices at 300 Palmetto Health Parkway – connected by an enclosed walkway. People driving by on nearby I-26 and Lake Murray Boulevard have told Sarah Kirby, acute care executive at Palmetto Health Parkridge, that it looks more like a performing arts center or a fancy mall than a hospital.

Of course, the form has function. The look is designed to make the place feel comfortable, not intimidating like most hospitals, Kirby said. And for every original artwork on the walls in public areas there are 10 high-tech touches in the patient rooms related to giving better health care.

“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to start with a blank canvas,” Kirby said. “You get to design the process as well as the building.”

When patients walk in the front door, they won’t see an intimidating admissions desk. Instead, they will be greeted by a care guide, who will accompany them to the floor where they need to go, all the while taking down admissions information on a portable tablet device.

“Registration isn’t a place, it’s a process that can be done anywhere,” said Melissa Almond, one of the care guide leaders. “It reduces handoffs.”

Small monitors built into the walls outside each room replace the various signs and charts that have cluttered the doors at most hospitals, putting information quickly at workers’ fingertips. All of the cabinets in the emergency department rooms are off the ground, making it easier to clean the floors quickly and effectively if the rooms need to be turned around in a hurry.

The adjoining office building means obstetricians can walk directly from their third-floor offices to the third-floor maternity ward, which in the nature-themed verbiage of Parkway is the Magnolia floor. There’s a small store, Magnolia’s Boutique, catering to the needs of new moms and their families. The room down the hall that most hospitals call the waiting room is the Family Room at Parkridge.

On the fourth floor, hallways named for sturdy trees – Laurel Oak and Red Oak – stand on either side of a physical therapy center. The Arbor Dining Room and the Refresh Cafe will serve no fried or frozen foods. The spacious open area inside the front doors is called the Living Room. The area outside the Arbor Dining Room is called the Back Porch, and will feature porch swings and outdoor dining.

The goal is for Parkridge to be a full-service hospital, with maternity and sports medicine expected to be two of its strengths. Palmetto Health designed the facility to handle just about anything except the most serious trauma cases and open heart surgeries.

As impressive as the facility is, some of the original plans were scaled back to save money, said Paul Bouknight, director of planning. Originally, the substantial back roof of the first floor, which many upper floor rooms overlook, was going to be planted in succulents to give a more natural appearance. A small rooftop garden on the front of the first floor also was scrapped.

But overall, it’s hard to see where corners were cut.

Angie Davis was born and raised in Irmo and now works as a screening specialist at Palmetto Health Baptist downtown. She’s amazed “this area has grown so much. This wasn’t anything but trees a not long ago. Now look at it.”

Her friend Christeen Martin is a surgical tech training at one of the other Palmetto facilities and scheduled to start at Parkridge when it opens. Her visit Monday got her even more excited about her new job. “It is very, very nice,” she said.

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