Columbus hospital plans expansion 6 years after flooding

COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) — A central Indiana hospital is preparing to start work on an expansion project that was first planned before it was badly damaged by flooding six years ago.

The $30 million project at Columbus Regional Hospital will expand its emergency department and cancer center.

The emergency department’s patient volume far exceeds what it was designed to handle, and the cancer center has experienced a steady growth in the number of patients, hospital CEO Jim Bickel told The Republic newspaper.

“We’ve gotten everything out of our space we could, but it’s not meeting the needs of the community,” Bickel said.

The expansion is expected to be complete by the end of next year.

The hospital had planned a new emergency department and a five-story pavilion with at least 60 private patient rooms in a $108 million expansion. But that project was put on hold after the June 2008 flash flooding of its first floor and basement, which forced its evacuation and closure for several months.

A portion of money set aside for the original expansion project was used to pay employee salaries until the hospital reopened. Money also was invested in upgrading information technology and other information systems, Bickel said.

The expansion project is expected to be complete by the end of next year in Columbus, a city about 40 miles south of Indianapolis.

Bickel said the current emergency department was built in 1992 to handle 25,000 patients a year, but it’s been serving about 40,000 since 2009.

Construction of a larger emergency department won’t warrant the hiring of more employees unless patient volume increases, said Pamela Missi, the hospital’s vice president and chief nursing officer.

Bickel said all money for the project will come from the hospital’s cash reserves.

“The $30 million was the amount we could conservatively and safely afford with the changes in health care now,” he said.

The hospital had nearly $180 million in damage from the 2008 flooding. Floodgates have since been installed at each of its pedestrian and vehicle entrances aimed at protecting the hospital from water reaching 2 feet higher than an expected 100-year flood.

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