Designed to Heal

Chester County Hospital continues to expand its coverage, and to do so, they’re gonna need a bigger building.

It’s a phenomenon familiar to anyone who’s ever undertaken a home renovation or DIY project: you identify a situation (this room is looking drab!), pinpoint a solution (let’s rip up this tired carpeting!), and like a Hydra, another issue grows ahead to replace it (these new floors make the wall paint look terrible!). But going through those steps is how you end up with the space you want and need.

For the folks at Chester County Hospital, it’s been a similar situation, but on a much, much larger scale. How much larger? A 250,000 square foot expansion along with a 26,000 square foot renovation. Happily, they are past the identifying and pinpointing stages and are now well on their way from the planning to the implementation of the biggest expansion ever undertaken at the facility, according to CCHS President and CEO, Mike Duncan.

“I’ve been at CCHS from almost eight years, and the hospital was in fine shape, from a good patient satisfaction level, high-quality medical staff, great culture stand-point, when I got here,” Duncan told us. “At that point, though, we still had a fair number of semi-private rooms, so we needed to begin building. That’s when we built the Lasko Tower.” That project, in 2014, added 72 patient rooms for cardiac patients, orthopedic and surgical recovery units, and a mother and baby pavilion, and updated the hospital to essentially all private—as opposed to semi-private—rooms, which has become the industry norm, particularly in suburban areas.

Upon opening the Tower and implementing a few other initiatives, the hospital experienced a bit of a growth spurt, according to Duncan. The next Hydra-like limitation to the hospital’s growth? The operating rooms. “Our 10 operating rooms were fine, but some of them were built several decades ago, and back then, they were simply much smaller. With newer procedures, you need bigger rooms. We have two surgical robots, we have imaging, there are computer stacks that are in the room, and you need more people to operate all this stuff. The size and number of the operating rooms became the choke point for our continued growth. That’s what initiated the present expansion.”

Sounds good, but! “Our operating rooms were essentially landlocked in a 1925 building,” Duncan said. “We couldn’t just expand them where they were. So then it was ‘Okay, let’s build new rooms in a new platform from scratch, and while we’re at it, why don’t we put in more private rooms on top of that, and while we’re at that, why don’t we just expand the emergency room?”Like most renovations that take on a life of their own, money is an essential component. In this case, the solution was a partnership. “Six years ago, the board and the management team and I concluded that we wouldn’t be able to do everything we wanted to do for this community unless we partnered with somebody who was bigger. And that led us to Penn Medicine.”

It was a great fit right out of the gate. “Penn Medicine has been just a fantastic partner,” Duncan told us. “They’ve invested the capital, helped us recruit additional doctors and nurses, and at the same time, they’ve recognized that Chester County Hospital has a unique and very special culture. They’ve gone out of their way to acknowledge that culture, and to let the local management team maintain that feel of how we treat one another here. I was impressed when Penn leadership—from our very first meeting—mentioned that our culture here was something that they wanted to be protected.”

With the partnership established and the capital secured, ground was broken in May of 2017 for this ambitious project, and things seem to be on target for completion of it by the target date of December 2019—“It’s our Christmas present to the community,” Duncan said. “At this point, we’re very optimistic that we’re going to be right on schedule. The most important thing we needed to get done has gotten done: the new tower is enclosed. So snow or bad weather won’t impede us at this point—all the work has moved indoors.”

Speaking of the indoors, even the architectural firm selected for the job was a good fit. As it happened, the same firm, Ballinger, which has worked with CCH for over 20 years, also does business with Penn Medicine. “So when we wanted to do this expansion,” Duncan said, “we already had somebody who understood what’s important to us doing the design.”

A couple of the concepts considered in the design were not only the history of Chester County, but the geography of it. So it was not only important to maintain the hospital’s architectural elements, but a lot of glass is incorporated into the project’s design so that people inside the hospital—whether patients or staff—can look outside and see the physical beauty there. “Right now, if you walk into an operating room for your eight- or 10- or 12-hour shift, you won’t see the outdoors again until you get in your car to go home,” Duncan told us.

“In the new structure, there’s glass right next to the operating room, so between cases, a nurse or doctor or tech can step out into a quiet space and look out onto the beauty of Chester County.” There will also be several interior courtyards with trees, and a huge green roof on top of the operating rooms.

In addition to creating these physically beautiful spaces, a lot of work has gone into creating quiet spaces where a doctor and a patient or a patient and family can find spaces for conversation. “We’re creating a calm, quiet environment for everyone here. Even the floors in our new neonatal intensive care unit are sound absorbent. It’s unbelievably quiet, which helps the babies.”

With the renovation completed by the end of next year, move in will commence in January of 2020, and it’s expected that everything will be operational (no pun intended) by the early part of April. The project—like many renovations—is both exciting and demanding, and Duncan says the CCH management team is working hard—really hard. “We’re doing two full-time jobs right now,” he said. “We’re successfully running the hospital that we’ve got, and at the same time, we’re building the hospital that we want: a hospital for the future.”