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Overdue Operation

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  • | 9:21 a.m. July 23, 2010
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University Community Hospital-Carollwood is no longer the neighborhood hospital it started out as in the 1970s.

The five-story facility is equally distant from just about every point in Tampa — roughly 18 minutes to anywhere important, according to hospital executives — and traffic along North Dale Mabry Highway has gotten heavier as decades have gone by.

For these reasons and others, UCH saw fit to invest more than $12 million in upgrades to its Medical Arts Tower last year at a time when development reached a standstill and expansion capital went into virtual lockdown. The soon-to-open results include a high-tech intensive care unit, futuristic operating suites and private patient rooms resembling those in finer hotels.

The Carrollwood hospital had already received high marks for patient care, as well as how families and personnel are treated. Yet age was the biggest factor in making upgrades to its upper floors.

“We do an excellent job of taking care of our patients, but our facilities are 40 years old,” says Larry Hanan, CEO of UCH-Carrollwood. “We needed to do this project. If we had waited another year, we wouldn't have been able to do it.”

UCH's plans for the upgrades have been in the works for the last three years as the recession took hold. Financing was secured through a combination bond issue and refinancing of existing debt, and at least 200 people were put to work over the last year.

“It was like a stimulus package. We started when construction was stopping all over the community,” Hanan says. He adds that the hospital's 200 current employees had significant input into the upgrades, which were performed by Diaz Fritz Isabel General Contractors and designed by Curtiss Haynes Architecture.

Highlights of the UCH-Carrollwood expansion project include:

• Doubling patient space on the third floor, to 12,000 square feet, by converting office space to 23 new private patient rooms for ICU and progressive-care patients.

• Adding three operating rooms to the six existing on the second floor, with modern lighting and multiple cameras and monitors that allow procedures to be viewed from almost anywhere inside the hospital.

• New wooden floors, memory-foam mattresses and flat-screen TVs in patient rooms, which also allow more space for family and other visitors.

• Better placement of lighting and supplies in patient rooms to make things easier for nurses, who helped guide the new room design.

• Nursing stations directly outside patient rooms with around-the-clock access, including the ability to dial nurses' cell phones directly rather than relying on clunky call buttons.

“The less stressed you are, the better you're able to heal,” notes Mary Whillock, the hospital's COO and associate nursing officer. Those comforts are equally as important to elderly or terminal patients and in helping family members cope with end-of-life issues, she says.

One of six hospitals in the Tampa-based University Community Health network, UCH-Carrollwood primarily serves residents in northwest Hillsborough County and has developed a reputation in recent years as the go-to hospital for spine surgery. Because the small hospital had reached capacity, doctors were forced to refer patients elsewhere.

Hanan believes the hospital's small stature, and its emphasis on surgery and acute care, makes it more responsive to patients' needs. The biggest difference, he says, is how quickly doctors can get to bedsides after they park their cars.

“We want to be able to do a few things very well,” he says. “Because of our size, we're able to do some of the things the big boys don't do.”

More improvements are on the way, with an estimated $5 million worth of work planned for the two top floors in the Medical Arts Tower. “We're not done renovating and remodeling,” Hanan assures.

The improvements at UCH-Carrollwood will have a favorable impact on the pending merger of UCH with Winter Park-based Adventist Health System. The merger would create the area's third-largest health care network, giving greater negotiating power with insurers and allowing it to respond better to upcoming changes under Obamacare.

“We think it's great for our organization,” Hanan says. “Their depth and breadth, plus their commitment to quality care, will augment what we're already doing. It's a good match for us and we're hoping it happens sooner rather than later.”

The Carrollwood expansion also represents a swan song for Ronnie Oakes, UCH's project director for the last 47 years. Oakes, 68, supervised the work over the last 12 months and is set to retire later this year.

“To see our growth and expansion to better the community, and to see all the state-of-the-art equipment being installed here, is unbelievable,” Oakes says, adding that the work will be finished on schedule this summer.


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