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Major DHMC expansion kicks off as officials cite bounceback in patient demand

  • Construction workers prepare the site for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center's $150 million patient tower on Wednesday, July, 22, 2020 in Lebanon, N.H. which is expected to open for patients in 2022. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Jennifer Smyth, a production consultant on the creative services team at Dartmouth-Hitchock, organizes a photo during a ceremonial groundbreaking at the hospital on Wednesday, July 22, 20209 in Lebanon, N.H. Work on the $150 million patient tower started this month. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO and President Joanne Conroy speaks to the media during a ceremonial groundbreaking for a new patient tower at DHMC on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Consigli Construction project manager Ricky Gala, left, Anthony Consigli, CEO of the company, and Brian Hamilton, director of healthcare and life sciences for Consigli, listen during a ceremonial groundbreaking for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center's $150 million patient tower on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2020 9:12:19 PM
Modified: 7/22/2020 9:12:12 PM

LEBANON — Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center this month began construction on a $150 million patient tower and closed off an entrance and parking lot at its Lebanon campus as a result.

New Hampshire’s only academic medical center has also begun to see at least as many patients as it did before elective procedures had to be delayed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region in March, D-H CEO Joanne Conroy said in an interview after a ceremonial groundbreaking for the project on Wednesday morning.

The hospital, which has 396 beds, now is again facing the problem of having to turn patients away due to a lack of space, she said.

“There was a lot of (pent-up) demand,” Conroy said, noting that with precautions such as required temperature checks, masks and regular cleaning, DHMC is a “pretty safe place.”

While many things about the future remain uncertain as the pandemic persists, the demand for health care is not, Conroy told a group of about 20 D-H officials and members of the media gathered under a tent outside the north entrance of DHMC on Wednesday morning. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic draws headlines, people continue to have heart attacks, strokes, babies and various illnesses, she said.

“People still get sick,” Conroy said. “We know that the demand continues to grow.”

DHMC regularly turns away about 200 patients a month, said D-H board chairman Edward Stansfield. Often such patients are forced to find care outside the Upper Valley, in Boston or New York, he said. Doing so means patients receive care far from their friends and families, which can be costly and stressful, he said.

As they spoke, excavators and construction crews prepared the site near the hospital’s two existing patient towers for the new one, which is slated to begin welcoming patients in 2022. The five-story, roughly 200,000-square-foot building will include 64 single-occupancy rooms and space for 64 more to be built out as needed. The rooms will be equipped to provide intensive care unit-level services and for negative air pressure, which is used to reduce the risk of spreading an infection, Conroy said.

As a result of the construction, the north entrance of DHMC is closed and patient and visitor parking at that entrance is no longer available. Additional spaces for patients and visitors are now available at the main entrance parking lot and parking is also available in the DHMC parking garage.

D-H says it remains committed to the tower project and another $62.5 million expansion ongoing at its Manchester ambulatory clinic even as its finances have been affected by the pandemic. D-H spent $12 million to purchase the personal protective equipment such as masks and face shields necessary to keep staff and patients across the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system safe, Conroy said.

It has also spent $5 million to upgrade its laboratory to process COVID-19 tests within 24 hours, as well as conduct antibody tests and examine wastewater samples for early warning signs of the presence of COVID-19, she said.

The effect of halting elective procedures as the region prepared for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases in March and April on the health system’s finances was “breathtaking,” said Stansfield, who lives in Meriden and is senior financial adviser and resident director at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.

In a June filing with bondholders, D-H said it lost $34.6 million in revenue in the final two weeks of March as the outbreak and subsequent precautions forced Dartmouth-Hitchcock to halt elective and non-urgent procedures. But, the health system has gotten back to normal volumes so quickly it’s “going to be a business school case,” Stansfield said.

It also got some federal help to weather the storm. As of June, D-H had lined up $493 million in federal funding, advance payments, tax deferrals and loans this spring, the filing said, more than 20% of its operating budget. That included $88.6 million in federal CARES Act funding.

The funding for the new inpatient tower had been secured prior to the pandemic.

Charles Plimpton, chairman of the D-H board’s finance committee, said philanthropy will play a role in helping the health system get through the pandemic. He and his wife, Barbara, Cornish residents, have made a pledge, he said.

“I hope others will soon join us,” said Plimpton, a retired Wall Street banker who specialized in financing for the nonprofit health care industry.

Conroy said she’s proud the D-H system has gotten to this point of the pandemic without layoffs or furloughs. But the pandemic has affected D-H employees. Before the reopening of elective services, some workers whose regular jobs were on pause were reassigned, according to the June filing with bondholders. On May 4, those who were unable to be reassigned were asked to either used accrued earned time and or take unpaid time off, effectively a furlough.

It’s still not clear whether the region might see a surge in cases in the future, and Conroy said she keeps a close eye on the number of COVID-19 cases in the region each day.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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