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Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Announces $130 Million Expansion

  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., as seen from the air on Dec. 9, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Charles Hatcher

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2018 3:54:17 PM
Modified: 12/8/2018 12:02:10 AM

Lebanon — Citing growing demand for its specialty and acute-care services, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center plans a $130 million expansion to include 60 new inpatient beds, a new parking garage and additional rooms in the emergency department.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health announced the project, which is expected to be financed through a combination of equity, fundraising and bonds, in a news release on Friday, following its unanimous approval by the Lebanon-based health system’s board of trustees.

The new beds in a four-story inpatient tower at DHMC are necessary to accommodate increasing patient demand at New Hampshire’s only academic medical center, CEO Joanne Conroy said in the release.

“For some time now, we’ve seen demand for our care dramatically grow, and we’ve had success with our member hospitals in both states in making sure patients receive the right care, at the right time, close to home,” she said. “But the increasing demands for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s specialty and high-acuity care, in all disciplines, requires us to expand our capacity so that patients can access that care here in Lebanon.”

The proposed new building would include two floors of single-occupancy inpatient rooms, including 45 medical-surgical beds that could flex depending on patient needs, as well as 15 step-down beds for patients who require more care than those in medical-surgical beds, but less than that provided in the intensive care unit, D-H spokesman Rick Adams said in an email on Friday.

Another floor would accommodate an additional 30 beds that could be added later, and the fourth floor would include service and mechanical space.

Demand for care at DHMC is driven by a variety of factors, including the aging population, the hospital’s role as a safety net provider and the health system’s growth, the release said.

The lack of available beds — occupancy rates regularly run at 90 percent — requires that DHMC divert high-acuity patients seeking high-level or specialized care to facilities elsewhere in New England, the release said.

The new tower is expected to provide access for the existing unmet demand of approximately 3,000 inpatient admissions per year.

State Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover, said she experienced DHMC’s bed crunch when she was admitted last year.

“Census has been high and they really have a lack of beds,” said Nordgren, who sits on the House Finance Committee and specializes in health care funding.

Overall, Nordgren said, the hospital system needs to keep up with the needs of the population, which include older people who are living longer with more complex conditions.

A lack of beds, low reimbursement rates and other challenges are contributing to issues with discharging some patients in a timely manner, as D-H officials told the Valley News last month.

As the hospital system has expanded and smaller community hospitals have had to give up services such as obstetrics, demand for care at DHMC has increased, Nordgren said.

In some cases, this has resulted in people waiting in the emergency department, she said.

DHMC’s emergency department, which was last renovated in 2004, averages about 32,000 patient visits annually. The construction plan includes renovations and 14 new evaluation and treatment emergency department rooms.

“That’s probably also wise,” Nordgren said of the emergency department expansion plans.

To accommodate patients and visitors to the new rooms and to free up space in the outdoor parking lots, the plan also calls for the construction of a 400-space parking garage.

The announcement of the expansion plan — which is slated to begin in the spring, pending permit approvals, and for completion in three to four years — comes just weeks after the D-H system, which had an operating budget of $2.02 billion, reported an operating surplus of $47.5 million for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

This is a marked improvement from fiscal year 2017, when D-H saw an operating loss of $7 million; and from 2016, when D-H posted a loss of $12.2 million.

As the project progresses, D-H will work to recruit staff for the new space, Adams said in an email. To do so, D-H will rely on its own workforce development resources — including training programs for medical assistants, pharmacy technicians and coders — as well as its relationship with Colby-Sawyer College’s nursing program, he said.

“We’re confident that we’ll have the human resources in place when the project is compete in 2023,” Adams said.

Regarding concerns about increasing traffic in the sometimes congested Route 120 corridor, Adams said D-H “has regular conversations with regional transportation providers and local municipalities about moving people in and out of the medical center complex. We will continue those conversations as this project develops.”

D-H will work with city and state officials to obtain the necessary permits for the project, Adams said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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