Salem Health opens new hospital tower, adding 150 beds


The $245 million expansion has been under construction for two years. It aims to help the region’s largest hospital better serve a growing and aging population that will require more medical care over the next two decades.

Hannah Bauer, facilities development projects consultant for Salem Health, leads a tour of a patient wing in the hospital’s new tower on Tuesday, June 28. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Years ago, as Salem Health executives began planning to expand their flagship hospital, an administrator had some comments.

She had just been hospitalized and was frustrated because her bedroom shower had nowhere to put soap or shampoo, forcing her to bend down to the floor.

A shower shelf in the bathrooms is just one of the upgrades Salem Hospital patients and staff will see on July 14, when the first patients will receive care in a new 150-bed tower and 203,000 square feet. The space was designed with input from hospital employees to make care delivery easier and hospital stays more comfortable, said Sarah Horn, Salem Health’s chief nursing officer, during a media tour on Tuesday.

Planning for the project began in 2017 as hospital leaders anticipated demographic trends in the Salem area. The population of Marion and Polk counties is growing, and the share of residents over the age of 65 is also increasing as the large baby boomer generation retires.

“As people get older, they need care, and they need to deal with it more often and more frequently and those who are younger,” Horn said.

Over the next 20 years, the population of the Salem area is expected to increase by 30%, with the population between the ages of 60 and 80 increasing by 50%, Horn said. These figures come from a hospital analysis based on data from the Center for Population Research at Portland State University.

The junction between the original Salem Hospital Building A, right, and the new five-story tower with 150 beds, opening July 2022, left (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The expansion has been under construction since early 2020 and was completed on time and on budget despite the challenges of the pandemic, recent inflation and escalating construction costs.

Construction of the new tower and seismic upgrades to the hospital’s emergency parking lot totaled $235 million, Horn said.

Prior to the pandemic, the hospital was consistently near capacity of 494 patients and operated the busiest emergency room on the West Coast between San Diego and Canada, with approximately 100,000 patient visits per year.

These challenges have only worsened since the pandemic. Over the past year, the hospital has steadily exceeded its bed capacity, receiving more seriously ill patients because they delayed care for chronic conditions during surges in pandemic cases. Staffing shortages and Covid outbreaks in nursing facilities have also meant that more people who no longer need hospital-level medical care are staying in hospital because there is nowhere to discharge them. .

Due to the higher number of patients the hospital is seeing, Salem Health executives spent an additional $10 million to have a fifth floor of the new patient tower outfitted to open immediately, rather than having to open any. four as originally planned. This addition brought the total cost of the project to $245 million.

Horn said initially the hospital would move patients from its old B building to the new tower. Building B’s seven patient units will be redesigned, with the ultimate goal of having this building serve as an overflow during times when the hospital sees a large number of patients.

With the opening of the new tower, the hospital’s approved bed capacity will increase to 644.

This will improve patient care in other hospital areas, Horn said. Adding more beds means that a person admitted to hospital is less likely to have to wait in the emergency room for space to become available – a practice known as “boarding”. When someone admitted to the hospital can leave the emergency department quickly, it frees up space and emergency department workers to care for other patients, which reduces wait times.

A new patient room in the expanded tower of Building A at Salem Hospital is large enough to function as an intensive care unit bed, with hookups for the medical gases needed to provide advanced care (Rachel Alexander/ Salem Reporter)

The new tower is designed so that each room can function as an intensive care unit bed, Horn said, although the hospital’s existing intensive care unit will not move. The design gives the hospital flexibility if it has more intensive care patients than it can accommodate – a challenge medical workers faced during the Covid delta surge last summer.

Three rooms on each floor include lifts designed for heavier patients, and one of these rooms also has negative airflow so it can be used for patients with a contagious disease who require precautions to prevent the spread of airborne diseases, said Hannah Bauer, facilities development at Salem Health. project advisor.

Each floor of the new tower is assigned a color to make it easier for patients and visitors to know where they are. On the third floor, some walls and hallway panels are purple, especially near the entrance. The other floors are green, orange, blue or yellow.

Because the hospital won’t immediately have patients in the 150 new beds, Horn said the opening of the tower doesn’t mean Salem Health has to hire a significant number of new staff. Like other hospitals in Oregon and the United States, the hospital has significantly increased its reliance on contract labor to help stem staffing shortages over the past year. , a change that also led to increased labor costs.

Horn said the hospital would staff the new beds using existing employees and gradually increase its staff as patient demand increases and fill more beds.

Seismic upgrades and new screens to keep car lights from shining into patient rooms are among improvements to Salem Hospital’s main parking lot as part of a new tower opening in July 2022 ( Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A redesigned ER drop-off at Salem Hospital is meant to make it easier for patients to find the entrance with bright red coloring and 24-hour illuminated signs. The new entrance opened in April 2022 (Rachel Alexander/ Salem Reporter)

A nursing station in the new Salem hospital tower, which is expected to see its first patients in July 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A patient bathroom in the new Salem Hospital tower, which is expected to accept its first patients in July 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Contact journalist Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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