The oohs and aahs were frequent as people toured the OR, ER and other areas of the new Effingham Hospital.
The hospital’s modernization project, completed ahead of time and on budget, met rave reviews from the public at Saturday’s open house as dozens got a first-hand look at the $30 million, 58,000 square foot edifice.
And what many of those who walked through the halls Saturday liked about it was how close it was to home.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Rev. Lloyd Dees. “I’m really excited about the possibilities. When I get sick, or not, I’m coming here. We were quite supportive. A lot of people go to Savannah and back and now we’re in our own county. And we like it.”
Among the state-of-the-art and high-tech additions to the new edition of the hospital are digital mammography and CT scans in the radiology department, two operating rooms that are three times the size of the old ones — and also equipped with a flat-screen, hi-definition television screens to connect with other doctors and hospitals — seven surgery prep rooms and three recovery rooms.
The radiology and laboratory departments are accessible from two sides. The emergency department will double in size, with 10 exam and treatment rooms. There also are decontamination and isolation rooms, and registration at the ER will be separate from other areas. Patients getting treated at the hospital also no longer will have to go through the public access areas of the hospital for radiological examinations or other services.
“The spaces will allow surgeons to perform major procedures that previously had to be performed in Savannah,” noted Rick Rafter, hospital authority chairman. “We have jumped ahead and now can provide an outstanding service to the community.”
The hospital also is adding an orthopedic surgeon in March.
“It has attracted doctors in new areas of medicine, attracted top-notch medical staff and that is only the beginning,” Rafter added.
Cardiopulmonary services include separate rooms for EKGs and Holter monitoring tests, including rooms for stress tests. A women’s care center, similar to the one the hospital operates at its Goshen Road facility, will allow female patients under going such tests as mammograms and bone density scans — all on brand-new equipment — to change into hospital gowns and have all those tests done in a private area.
With two new trauma rooms, the hospital also is exploring being designated a level IV trauma center. There are two level IV trauma centers in the state, at Lower Oconee Community and Morgan Memorial hospitals, both small hospitals. Level I trauma centers, such as the ones at Memorial University Medical Center and Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, are the biggest and most advanced.
Among the additions and upgrades are in the endoscopic examinations, where patients can receive colonoscopies and other gastrointestinal procedures. The hospital also is bringing in an electroencephalogram, or EEG, allowing the staff neurologist in Statesboro or neurologists in Savannah to read the test results remotely.
The hospital already is considering what services it could offer in the future and officials have discussed adding an infusion center for chemotherapy. That resonates with Michael King, who recently overcame a leukemia diagnosis.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I’m excited they may be able to offer chemotherapy. I travel once a week to Savannah to have that done. I’ll be able to come right here. I’ll be able to save time, gas and money.”
It’s having such services in a much closer proximity that delighted visitors Saturday.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Helen Eason. “It helps me a lot because it keeps me from going to Savannah and Statesboro. I come here for some things. But sometimes I have to go somewhere else. I think it will help me a lot.”
For county Commissioner Bob Brantley, the hospital’s modernization project was a hard sell in the 1st District. Many of the residents there are closer to Savannah’s hospitals than they are to Effingham Hospital.
But Brantley eventually voted in favor of the proposal to commit the hospital’s millage rate proceeds to the deal in order to get Housing and Urban Development approval and funding.
“It was hard to envision how you’re going to spend $30 million,” he said, “but I think they did a very good job. It’s very nice. It’s hard to picture what you can do with that much money until you see it. But I’m very proud of it and I think the people of the county should be very proud of it.”
Like the multitudes who came through the hospital’s corridors’ Saturday, Brantley was impressed by what he saw.
“I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “I think they did a great job.”
King, who also backed the hospital’s plans for expansion and modernization, equally was startled by the finished product.
“I was in favor of it to begin with, because I could see the long-term need for it,” he said. “They did a great job. It’s laid out nice.”
It’s not just the new gadgets and space that wowed visitors — the atrium-style reception area and the décor also drew rave reviews.
“This is so wonderful,” said Rev. Barb Koch, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church. “It’s homey, it’s warm, it’s welcoming. It’s not so institutionalized. When you come here and you’re not feeling well, you’re going to be confident that you’re going to feel better. That’s how I feel.”
Longtime hospital authority member Tommy Exley got a private tour of the new hospital Thursday night, along with other trustees. He too was proud of the finished product and praised the demanding attention to detail of project manager John Albert of American Health Facilities Development.
“It really looks good,” Exley said. “Good wasn’t good enough for (Albert). It all had to be excellent. If he said it was ‘good,’ they had to re-do it till they could get it right.
“We are proud of our facility and what it’s going to mean to the community.”