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If they build it, patients follow

Medical building booms in Oregon

Kare Sias Parks could barely contain her enthusiasm as she showed off Legacy Emanuel Hospital's new Oregon Burn Center in North Portland.

The $6 million, state-of-the-art unit, which opened Monday, has 16 rooms equipped with the latest technology to care for burn patients, including:

• Specially designed beds and mattresses

• Hoist-and-rail systems that allow staff to easily move even the heaviest patients

• Temperature-controlled hydrotherapy tables that allow patients to be bathed more safely

• High-tech monitoring systems

'In our old unit, the rooms were double-occupancy. Now we have one patient per room' with a bathroom in each room, said Parks, the center's nurse manager. 'We had one bathroom for seven patients. This is a huge difference from what we had before.'

Since 1973, Legacy's burn unit had occupied cramped, obsolete quarters within Emanuel. With its opening this week, the new, ultramodern center has become the latest manifestation of a statewide boom in health care construction.

Nearly every health system in the state, from Portland to Bend to Medford, has opened or plans to open new or expanded hospital units, surgical 'suites,' specialty clinics, medical offices, dental offices and garages.

The Oregon Health Division's Licensing Plans Review Program shows 219 health care-related construction projects planned or under way in the state. It is a building boom unaffected by the recession, which has slowed retail, housing and other types of construction.

'Usually, hospital expansion is independent of what's going on in the economy because it takes so long to plan,' said Herb Giffin, president of Giffin Bolte Jurgens Architects, a Portland firm that specializes in health care architecture.

Financing usually is obtained through bonds, so funding already is earmarked, he said.

Fueling the expansion and construction are obsolete buildings, rapid medical and technological advances and an aging population that demands the most up-to-date diagnoses and treatments, Giffin said.

'Another reason for expansion is competition,' he said. 'Unless you have the latest and greatest technology, you'll lose patients.'

Giffin said his firm of 24 has 'a fairly good backlog' of projects, including various expansions for Oregon Health & Science University; completing the design of Multnomah County's North Portland Health Center in the St. Johns neighborhood; a 32-bed birthing unit and other expansions for Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver; and updating or designing new hospitals and clinics in Washington state.

For Legacy, the burn center, designed by Portland's Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership, is one of several recently completed projects, including a $12 million medical office building/garage at Emanuel and a $4.5 million renovation of its emergency department.

Legacy also plans a $12 million office building/garage in Tualatin and wants to built a 220-bed hospital in Clark County. That application still needs state approval.

In Vancouver, Southwest Washington Medical Center has expansion plans of its own. Last fall it opened an urgent care clinic in northern Clark County.

Other health care projects in the metro area include:

• A 300,000-square-foot, $250 million expansion that calls for more hospital beds, surgical 'suites' and outpatient facilities at OHSU, said Mark Van Buskirk, director of facilities and construction.

• A three-year, 64,000-square-foot expansion at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center that will increase the number of operating rooms from 22 to 27, creating 'one of the largest operating suites on the West Coast,' said Linda O'Hara, Providence Health System's special projects manager for design and construction.

• In fast-growing Clark County, Kaiser Permanente last month opened a complex of specialty care clinics and is expanding its Vancouver office, said James Farley, Kaiser area administrator for Southwest Washington.

Kaiser also is buying property in eastern Clark County for future medical offices.

In Clackamas County, Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center will begin work in April on a three-level, 400-space parking structure, said assistant administrator Dave Stokey. Also planned is a renovation that will add up to 28 beds, he said.

Demand is growing

'There's really been a dramatic, unexpected need for more beds in the last five or six years in the metro area,' said OHSU's Van Buskirk. 'The population here is still growing. People are staying here and expanding the size of their families.

'The other demographic is an aging population that is better educated and concerned about their health,' he said. 'It's a market dynamic that flies in the face of what managed care was supposed to be. We'll be adding, not subtracting, the number of health care facilities.'

Among the trends in new and reconfigured health care facilities is a move to single-bed rooms rather than those with double occupancy, said Steve Kolberg of Petersen Kolberg & Associates, which is working on projects for OHSU and Kaiser.

Also, architects are emphasizing comfort over the cold, sanitary look and feel of older hospitals, said Mike Smith, a principal in Portland's Mahlum Architects.

'People use the term 'healing environment,' and we're focused on doing that,' he said.

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