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Taking a big step

POSTED: October 20, 2011 9:31 p.m.
Photo by Calli Arnold/

Norma Jean Morgan, CEO of Effingham Hospital, thanks the crowd for their support of the hospital modernization project and updates them on the progress in the atrium of the new facility during a “first look” reception and tour.

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Tools and supplies were strewn in different rooms and the smell of sawed sheetrock hung in the air at the new addition of the Effingham Hospital on Thursday. While walls wait for paint and floors for tiles, the personality and flow of the building have begun to take shape as the facility opened its doors for a public preview to business and community leaders.

The hospital invited community and business leaders and some citizens in the county to a tour of its modernization project and to see the progress on the county’s investment in the health care facility.

"No later than the first Monday in February," said CEO Norma Jean Morgan, "we will be doing surgery in this building, we’ll be seeing ER patients in this building, we’ll be doing radiology and lab work in this building; maybe before, but no later than the first Monday in Feb."

Morgan thanked supporters of the project and county commissioners present at the "first look" reception, as well as elected state officials, from the second step of a ladder above the crowd and in the atrium of the new facility as sunlight from open, future windows peaked in the room from all four sides. She made special effort to thank citizens, specifically Ruth Lee, who came out and told elected officials of their desire for the modernization.

"It took the people saying, ‘we want to have our own hospital, we don’t want to abdicate care to another community,’ and that’s Mrs. Ruth Lee," Morgan noted.

Modernization project manager Michael Murphy said that they wanted to give a sneak peek to the project’s strongest supporters.

"There’s been a lot of curiosity, a lot of excitement in the community, even at the hospital," said Murphy. "We’ve gotten it to a safe enough point that we can let people come in and give them a behind the scenes sneak peek of what it’s going to be."

The project is meant to update the hospital, which is currently housed in a 1969 building, and expand its health care services. Features highlighted on the tour were two large, open operating rooms and waiting, post op and outpatient surgery areas that expand the space and capacity for surgical procedures. The new facility will serve patients with a new emergency room that will be ready for more patients than the current ER. There will be a women’s imaging center for mammograms and other tests for women. There also will be a unit designated for Alzheimer’s patients.

With new services come new specialists, and Murphy said they have had doctors calling them to be hired to practice in the new facility.

"We have doctors calling us, wanting to affiliate with us," he said. "We have our new doctors that are coming on board, an orthopedic surgeon that’s starting the first quarter of next year and a lot of people applying for jobs. We will be hiring. We don’t have a definite number, but we will be expanding as we expand our services."

Many current staff members at the hospital have yet to tour the new building, but Mimi Livingston, RN, JD and executive director of clinical outcomes and development, said that they are excited and have been a part of it from the beginning.

"It’s been an amazing process for the staff," she said. "From the very beginning, and the beginning was years ago when we started talking about this, we’ve involved staff on every level with planning the flow, planning the space, sitting down with each department, looking at what their needs are."

Construction on the 58,000 square foot facility began in January after nearly two years of planning. Once the new addition is completed, the hospital will take the name Effingham Health System.

Total financing for the modernization project is $30.9 million, most of which ($28 million) came from Recovery Zone Economic Development bonds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Effingham Hospital modernization was one in five to be approved by HUD in the federal fiscal year 2011.

"For so long, it’s been on paper, it’s been in imagination," said Livingstone. "And now to see it being realized is amazing."

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