LEE COUNTY — The Lee Memorial Healthcare System is moving forward with plans to build a five-story, $150 million patient tower to expand The Children’s Hospital at HealthPark Medical Center to handle growth out to 2020.
The board of directors voted unanimously Thursday to delve into more detailed planning for a five-story design proposal and gave the go ahead to the hospital system’s foundation to launch a capital campaign.
“It’s a huge step,” said Richard Akin, chairman of the board of directors. “We have been studying it for a while.”
Hospital officials working on the design with MGE Architects, of Coral Gables, will make another presentation to the board in March that includes a timeline for the project and costs. Akin said the cost could be closer to $200 million.
The present 105-bed children’s hospital, designated by the state as a regional hospital, serves the five-county region of Lee, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Charlotte counties and has been facing a bed crunch for some time.
Admissions stand at 410 a month, up from a few years ago of 270 admissions a month. Now, some seriously ill children have to be turned away and sent to children’s hospitals in Miami or St. Petersburg, said Dr. John Iacuone, executive director of the children’s hospital.
“We just sent 12 kids out last month,” he said.
The new patient tower is proposed to have 225,000-square-feet with 101 new children’s beds and the project would free up 45 beds for adults at HealthPark.
The new patient tower would be built off Bass Road and would be attached to the pediatric oncology wing of the children’s hospital.
Opting for the five-story design enables the hospital to address future growth with the fifth floor being left as shell space. The five-floor design could accommodate a pharmacy, day hospital and conference rooms for teaching, Iacuone said. A three-story design with 139,000-square-feet would not handle the pharmacy, day hospital and conference rooms, he said.
Some board members expressed concern about going with the five-story design and the cost.
Iacuone said patient volume growth is projected at two percent a year and was revised based on the current economy and not on old projections of five percent when Southwest Florida was booming.
“We have got to start moving because we will be faced with a very significant capacity crunch in both pediatrics and adults,” Iacuone said.
“I personally don’t want us not to look at growth,” Akin said, offering the motion to go with the five-story design and asked that the architect team come back with the time line for the project.
A glass-front building is proposed with a nautical theme with the look of sails, water falls, colored glass and bubbles to be appealing to children and to nurture a healing environment, said Maryann Pando-Avdakov, an associate with MGE.
“Historically, that has been used as a spiritual place. Water is a healing environment and essential for life,” she said. The plan includes a playground that can be used by children of all ages and capabilities.