Lexington Medical Center welcomed an average of nine babies per day last year, and it’s about to make room for a lot more.
The hospital’s $400 million expansion adds a 545,000-square foot, 10-story building next door to the current North Tower.
The project, which stands tall now as workers finish interiors, landscaping and windows, is expected to open at the end of March. The current North Tower will be renamed as the East Tower, and the new building will be the North Tower. The hospital’s main entrance will be at the meeting point of the two buildings.
LMC Vice President of Operations Mike Greeley said “the writing was on the wall” that the hospital needed to expand pretty much as soon as it opened its North Tower in 2005.
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“We filled that tower,” he said, noting LMC opened nursing units faster than expected. The number of patients admitted has increased by more than 57 percent since 1999.
Aside from delivering the second highest number of babies in South Carolina each year — more than 3,300 — LMC also performed more than 19,000 surgeries last year and treated more than 85,000 patients in the emergency room, spokesperson Jennifer Wilson said.
The hospital is “full,” according to LMC executives.
The new medical tower is the largest hospital expansion in S.C. history based on approved cost and square footage, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The new facility includes eight operating rooms, an expanded surgery recovery area and six floors for medical, critical care and surgical patients. A parking garage with more than 950 parking spaces was also built.
The addition of 71 inpatient beds (to start) is an incremental relief to a state healthcare system that does not have enough beds to serve patients, healthcare economist Lynn Bailey says.
A centerpiece of the expansion project is a new two-floor birth center that will house labor and delivery, an area for patients who come to the hospital in labor or need temporary evaluation, as well as six pre-birth rooms.
In the lobby, a mosaic of faces will highlight some of the many babies born at LMC over the decades. The hospital is still collecting submissions at lexmed.com/BirthDay.
Bailey said the birth center is a crucial component of the hospital’s success, because it ensures patients continue going to Lexington Medical Center for care.
“You’ve captured all these people who have very positive experiences delivering their babies there, and so they just come there. Brand loyalty,” she said.
The new birth center will also house a mother and baby unit, a newborn nursery, and a different model for LMC: 20 private special care nursery rooms. The special care nurseries are private rooms for infants who need to stay at the hospital for additional care.
Greeley said the hospital is making the change from nurseries with many babies in one room to the individual rooms because of the studied health benefits. Research has shown that babies in fragile health gain weight more quickly, experience fewer infections and complications, and thrive more quickly when in secluded, controlled spaces with caregivers.
The private rooms also allow parents to stay at the hospital, close to their infant for as long as they need to, Greeley said.
Hospital administrators took a full year, he said, to plan and design and personalize every detail of the new tower. Employees were also included in the process, and allowed to offer suggestions when they were taken to mock-up rooms built in warehouses on-site.
“The room looked like it was at a sound stage in Hollywood,” Greeley said.
In those pretend hospital rooms, staff could critique every element of the design, from the number of electric outlets to the layout of the equipment. Maintenance staff were also brought in, Greeley said, to offer recommendations on how to design the plumbing, air conditioning and electrical systems. Those suggestions were then taken into account in the final design.
“We want to be known as the hospital that takes great care of patients. And you can take better care of patients if you pay attention to small details,” he said.
Greeley, who led a similar hospital expansion at his previous job in Columbus, Ohio, said community involvement guarantees a comfortable and long-lasting facility with “good, easy maintenance.”
“This hospital is going to far outlast me, so it’s got to be able to take care of patients 100 years from now,” he said.
Growing with the county
To finance the $400 million project, the hospital is relying on cash reserves and financing. More than $130 million from the budget was spent in South Carolina, Greeley said, and more than $100 million of that was in the Midlands. Spending locally was a major priority for the hospital, he said.
A new facility also means some new jobs. The hospital tower will “probably” create up to 200 jobs in the coming year, Greeley said. Those jobs will mostly be in food service, cleaning, respiratory therapy, transportation, as well as surgical and labor and delivery positions. Much of the staff from the hospital’s oldest units will be relocated into the new space.
The North Tower’s old birth center will become a renovated 17,000-square foot pharmacy department. The cardiac catheterization lab will also grow, Greeley said, and endoscopy will get new suites.
“Many ancillary and support departments are getting the space they deserve,” he said.
Upgrades are also planned for the traffic jam-prone roads around the hospital. The hospital committed “early on” to improving the intersection at U.S. 378 and West Hospital Drive, according to Greeley, though a traffic study showed only a small portion of the 55,000 cars that drive by everyday are headed to or from the hospital, he said.
In the next six months or so, the intersection will be redesigned to allow more green light time with every light cycle, a $1.5 million undertaking. East Hospital Drive will also be improved and the hospital is working to extend the Town of Lexington’s automated camera light system, which reads traffic instead of using timers to control traffic signals.
While Greeley said the hospital’s next leadership team will need to address future growth, Bailey said she sees another construction project as inevitable — and in the not-so-distant future.
“By 2025, they will have a satellite hospital somewhere within the town limits of Lexington,” she said. “Until they do something to improve traffic on [U.S. 378 and U.S. 1], that’s the barrier to growth at the mothership. So you can’t fix that, but you can put a community hospital out there.”
LMC is the main hospital in Lexington County, which itself is filling up quickly. County planners predict the county will be home to some 365,000 people by 2030. Central Midlands Council of Governments projects a population of 476,455 by 2040. Much of that growth is predicted to be in central Lexington County, in and around the Lexington 1 school district.
South Carolina is projected to have 5.3 million residents in 2023, according to the state’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. Bamberg, Barnwell, Lee, Marlboro, McCormick and Saluda counties do not have hospitals anymore. Fairfield County closed its hospital in 2018, a reflection of how rural hospitals around the nation have been forced to shut down.
Lexington Medical Center — an octopus of a health system that has satellite offices around Lexington County — has been stepping in to fill some of those gaps. From October 2016 to September 2017, the hospital reported 23,033 admissions. That included patients from Aiken (380), Fairfield (176), Kershaw (408), Newberry (503), Orangeburg (709), Richland (4,264) and Saluda (322) counties.
The hospital earned an A rating in hospital safety in fall 2018, the highest score among area hospitals graded and an improvement from its B rating in fall 2017 and spring 2018. The hospital safety ratings are assigned by The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit watchdog group that collects hospital data and releases report cards twice a year.
LMC performs above average in treating MRSA infections and preventing issues that arise during surgery and other errors, the report says. Lexington Medical Center also avoids safety problems at an above-average rate and has responsive, communicative staff and leadership, and specially trained doctors.
According to the latest safety report, the hospital performed below average in the following areas:
▪ Preventing infections of bacterial infections from Clostridium difficile, or C. diff
▪ Preventing infections in the blood
▪ Preventing infections in the urinary tract
▪ Preventing death from serious treatable complications after surgery
▪ Staff working together to prevent errors
▪ Preventing dangerous bed sores
▪ Hiring enough qualified nurses
Lexington Medical Center’s main campus is located at 2720 Sunset Blvd. in West Columbia. The hospital also operates six community medical and urgent care centers and a specialized Alzheimer’s care facility in Lexington County, and owns 60 physician’s practices.
Through the years