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Published: Tuesday, 10/5/2004

Firelands medical center set to expand

Firelands Regional Medical Center will expand its Sandusky campus in a four-year project costing nearly $150 million, one of the largest hospital investments ever made in northwest Ohio.

Plans include a four-story surgical building, a new cancer center, and a parking deck for up to 550 vehicles.

The project will raise the number of beds at the hospital from 200 and 285 and provide space and flexibility to serve patient needs for the next generation, chief operating officer Dan Moncher said yesterday.

The medical center is one of the largest in the region and it draws patients from five counties - Erie, Huron, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Seneca.

"We needed to update some facilities anyway, so it just seemed that now was the right time to do it and do it right, and set ourselves up for the next 20 to 30 years," Mr. Moncher said.

The surgical center, to be built on the east side of Firelands' campus, will include 47 medical and surgical beds, 38 step-down and critical care beds; up to 10 operating room suites, and a heart care facility.

The cancer center, to be erected on Tyler Street next to the Firelands Professional Center, will offer services to help patients cope better with their illness and the side effects of treatment. Facilities will include a massage therapy area; a boutique with skin care products, wigs, and prosthetics, and a community meeting room.

The cancer center will include 30,000 square feet of space that can be leased to physicians. A one-story addition on the hospital's west side will house purchasing department offices.

The new parking deck will replace surface lots scattered around the Firelands campus and include covered access to the medical center.

Mr. Moncher said Firelands plans to start construction on the parking deck and cancer center early next year and finish that phase within a year.

Work on the new medical tower is scheduled to begin in 2006 and be completed in two years.

"Hopefully the whole project is buttoned up and out the door in '08," Mr. Moncher said.

Firelands officials said the project is needed to solve capacity problems that have plagued the medical center since its 2001 merger with the former Providence Hospital. Firelands was founded in 1985 when Sandusky Memorial and Good Samaritan hospitals merged.

Last year, Firelands had more than 10,000 patient admissions, 44,500 emergency room visits, and 418,500 outpatient treatments.

The hospital plans to issue tax-free municipal bonds through Erie County or the city of Sandusky to finance most of the project.

Despite financial struggles related to the Providence takeover, Mr. Moncher said Firelands is turning the corner and can afford to finance the expansion.

The hospital had an operating loss last year of about $5.4 million but expects to break even or post a small profit this year. "We fully expect to be profitable next year," he said.

The hospital has nearly 200 physicians on staff and employs about 1,700 people. Mr. Moncher said employment is expected to rise because of the expansion, but it's unclear by how much.

The expansion is one of the region's largest hospital construction projects. ProMedica Health Systems is spending more than $200 million to raze and rebuild much of Toledo Hospital. In March, St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima announced a $130 million expansion that will include construction of a nine-story medical tower.



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