New hospital a good Rx

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New hospital a good Rx

Reprinted with permission from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 5, 2005

Even though the proposal has
been in the works—and in the
news—for a couple of years,
there still might have been some
sticker shock when officials at
Columbia St. Mary's rolled out
plans last week for their new
$417 million hospital on Mil-
Waukee's east side.

With health care costs in southeastern Wisconsin already among the highest in the nation, why build another hospital? The simple answer is economics. Building a new, more efficient hospital will allow officials at Columbia St. Mary's to combine their two existing facilities, only about a mile apart, into one complex with the resulting savings offsetting the projected cost.

Although the new hospital will increase costs by $17.9 million a year, it will result in savings of $20 million a year by reduced duplicative services as well as such things as lower maintenance costs and smaller utility bills, officials say.

If those savings can be achieved—and officials must keep their pledge to do just that—it's hard to argue with the bottom line. The decision to build on the present site of St. Mary's Hospital also means the city of Milwaukee won't be losing another hospital.

What's more, the system is also maintaining its commitment to its lower-income patients. St. Mary's works extensively with the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, and about 14% of the people who now go to St. Mary's for care use public transportation, according to Leo Brideau, president and chief executive of the health system.

The existing facilities at Columbia Hospital, 2025 E. Newport Ave., and St. Mary's, 2301 N. Lake Drive, will remain in operation while the new hospital is being built at N. lake Drive and E. North Ave. Construction is expected to be completed by 2010.

Merging the hospitals will reduce the total number of beds from more than 700 to 513. Consolidating all the operations in one complex will also,

allow the system to substantially reduce its staff. To their credit, officials area planning to use a temporary moratorium on hiring and attrition so people in entry-level jobs don't have to bear the burden of the work force reduction.

Improving medical care, of course it critical. The new hospital will incorporate the latest ideas in inpatient care aimed at speeding the healing process, including larger, all private rooms. While that may seem like a luxury, research shows the design not only makes patients and family more comfortable and reduces infections but facilitates medical treatment in the patients' rooms, which saves money.

Hospital officials also deserve kudos for working closely with merchants and residents in the St. Mary's area to address their legitimate concerns and make sure the new hospital and adjacent buildings, including parking garages, medical office buildings and a new cancer center, are complementary.

That was particularly important for residents in the area because of the historic character of many of the homes, including one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Although some details still need to be worked out, Jeff Bentoff, a representative of the Water Tower Landmark Trust, a neighborhood preservation group, praised hospital officials for their cooperation so far.

Columbia St. Mary's can do another good thing for the community if it sells Columbia Hospital property to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, whose landlocked campus abuts the hospital grounds. As we said in an editorial last year, the Columbia buildings could be readily converted for use by UWM, which desperately needs some growing room.



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