YOUNGSTOWN - Described by an area economic development leader as a "statement on how far this organization has come," Northside Medical Center broke ground Tuesday for a $20 million upgrade and expansion.
The investment will add 30,000 square feet to the hospital near the emergency room and modernize 28,000 square feet of the existing building. The plan is to make the emergency department more private and construct a three-story addition that will become the hospital's main entrance. It also will house pre-admission testing, waiting rooms, a gift shop, surgical services, endoscopy services, waiting rooms and more.
"It's a long time coming," said a jubilant food services employee Debbie Patterson of Liberty, who has worked at the hospital for 34 years. "It's great for us and the community."
The project, announced just last month, is part of a five-year, $80 million capital investment plan by Community Health Systems, which purchased the hospital system out of bankruptcy in 2010. Since then, the company already has invested about $50 million, including the latest $20 million announcement, to upgrade facilities, equipment and technology.
"I lived and grew up in this area, and I remember, as all of you do, when it seemed like daily you would open the newspaper and some announcement was made about the collapse of some iconic institution from our area," Northside Chairman of the Board Sandy Kessler said.
Describing the hospital as "part of the fabric of this community," Kessler expressed his pleasure at seeing the hospital, instead, bring renewed hope to the area.
Tribune Chronicle / Brenda Linert
Northside Medical Center food services workers Debbie Patterson and Robert Myers look over floor plans for the $20 million expansion and upgrades at the hospital. Patterson, of Liberty, has worked at the hospital for 34 years. Myers of Struthers is a cafeteria supervisor.
"This is one of the most exciting announcements at the hospital that I can remember," he said.
In fact, it is the largest infrastructure improvement in nearly 15 years.
Work is expected to be in full swing by the first week of August, shortly after a massive medical imaging device known as a PET CT scanner is relocated to ValleyCare's Austintown location to clear the way for construction in the area of the emergency department, said Rick Hocanson, superintendent for Tennessee-based project manager Robins & Morton.
At its height, hospital officials said about 130 skilled union contractors will work on the project.
Northside Chief Executive Officer Kirk Ray said the expansion and modernization project will enhance the patients' experience and give hospital workers and medical staff a facility designed to support their work.
"This just makes us better as an organization," he said.
In addition to Northside Medical Center, ValleyCare Health System also operates Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland and several other facilities in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.
Since coming to the system about seven months ago, Ray said he has noticed the hospitals pulling together as a system.
"Trumbull (Memorial Hospital) and Northside are trying to bring the system together to serve the region," Ray said. "I think we have a very good strategic plan in place. The staff realizes we will do better as a system."
While he declined to elaborate, Ray did say there are plans in the works for improvements at Warren's Trumbull Memorial Hospital as well. Those plans would likely be announced in the next six to 12 months, he said.
Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber president and chief executive officer Tom Humphries, who also took part in Tuesday's ceremonial groundbreaking, said the investment is noteworthy because it guarantees the continued operation of two Mahoning Valley hospital systems and represents diversity in local economic growth not tied to manufacturing or energy sectors.
"It's really exciting to see the day come where you are spending $20 million. It's really a statement on how far this organization has come over the past few years," Humphries said. "Frankly, the community is blessed."