Logically organized. Warm. Bright. Welcoming.
Those are just some of the descriptions that come to mind on Mt. Lebanon Magazine’s exclusive tour of the nearly finished Dunlap Family Outpatient Center at St. Clair Health, adjacent to St. Clair Hospital on Bower Hill Road.
The 280,000-square-feet, six-story building is the highlight of a $155 million upgrade to the hospital campus and is the largest construction project in the hospital’s 67-year history. The center includes two stories of indoor parking on the bottom floors and three stories of medical services, including operating rooms, endoscopy facilities, such diagnostics as MRI, CT scan and phlebotomy, as well as physician office suites.
The project also included a reconfiguration of the intersection of Bower Hill Road, North Wren and Firwood drives to make the intersection safer, and the addition of a 420-space employee parking garage behind the hospital building.
The ribbon cutting is Thursday, May 6, and the first patient will walk through the doors on Monday, May 10.
During our tour, as workers put the final finishes on the project, St. Clair’s top execs explained the design is patient-centric. The goal was to “create an environment with comprehensive services that are easily accessible,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Michael J. Flanagan.
“We want the patient’s experience to be ideal,” said John T. Sullivan, St. Clair Health’s senior vice president and chief medical officer. Among the qualities that lead to a good experience are privacy, natural light, comfortable areas for patients and families to wait and good organization that prevents people from having to move through many areas of the building just to complete a procedure.
The facility spent three years in the planning stage, when top execs hit the road to examine facilities across the country, including three campuses of the Mayo Clinic, UC San Diego Health, NorthShore University HealthSystem and Advocate Health Care in Chicago, and the University of Miami Health System, said James M. Collins, St. Clair Health’s president and chief executive officer.
The construction means that all outpatient services will move from the hospital to the new building, which includes all new equipment. No longer will patients have to navigate through the different floors to get testing or see their physicians. In fact, patients seeking preoperative testing will have a dedicated center to get everything done in one place, without stepping foot in the adjacent hospital.
The two integral parking floors will have spaces for 184 vehicles. Valet parking also is available.
Another hallmark of the service delivery at the center came from the Gonda building, at the Mayo Clinic’s main campus in Rochester, Minnesota. Services will come to patients where they are instead of making them “ping-pong” around the building, Collins said. The center is connected to the hospital to provide easy transitions for staff.
One of the first things you see when you walk into the fifth floor lobby is a striking, multi-floor kinetic light fixture in the stairwell. Near it are a translucent donor wall and a café.
Close to the front entry is a built-in Walgreens pharmacy. That partnership was modeled after a program staff saw in Chicago. Before patients are discharged, the pharmacy sends prescriptions to the room using a pneumatic tube. A pharmacy tech will explain the medication and answer questions. This practice ensures patients fill those follow-up prescriptions to avoid complications down the road.
The fifth floor contains the diagnostic and imaging center, including an MRI and CT scanner, plus facilities for lab work, EKGs and X-rays, and the preoperative testing center. Waiting rooms for MRIs and CTs are private and all areas are connected for easy access.
The procedure area is located on the sixth floor, which includes 10 operating rooms, six endoscopy rooms, two additional procedures rooms and 54 pre- and post-procedure rooms. The ORs are organized in a “U” shape to create a sterile core of the floor. Surgeons can move easily in and out and have the benefit of a sterile stair tower that leads from their locker rooms to the ORs.
On this floor, patients and their family members will benefit from the center’s “hoteling” concept. Once the patient checks in and is ready to prepare for the procedure, he or she goes to a private room, with room for a guest, Wi-Fi and a flat screen TV. The cheerful area includes artwork and bright LED lighting. When the patient is taken for the procedure, the family member can choose to stay comfortably in that room, and after the patient clears the post-procedure area, he or she is brought back to that room. Family members will have access to rest rooms and to bright waiting areas outside the room if they choose. The floor has family consultation rooms where the surgeon can speak privately with them.
When the patient is done with the procedure or surgery and is ready to go home, they exit through a dedicated elevator, which terminates near a private vestibule where they can wait for the car to be delivered from the valet or for a family member/friend to bring the car around.
Moving outpatient services, including surgeries, to the center will free up the 13 hospital operating rooms, constructed from 1954 to 2010, to be used for inpatient procedures. Those facilities will then be retrofitted with updated equipment going forward. Seventy percent of St. Clair’s surgeries are outpatient.
The seventh floor includes the clinical area with physicians’ offices. The floor includes an interconnected core of hallways to allow physicians and other practitioners to seamlessly slip between practice areas. So a patient being seen in the cardiology section could also be treated by a practitioner in urology. The floor is also home to the cardiac nuclear medicine area, including a D-SPECT nuclear camera, one of only two in Pittsburgh.
That the pandemic hit in the middle of construction did not make the design of the center moot, with the need to rethink delivery of medical services. “Everything is open and spacious and allows for social distancing,” said Collins.
As the lights are about to be turned on, hospital officials announced a rebranding from St. Clair Hospital to St. Clair Health, to more accurately reflect the health organization’s services beyond its hospital, including three large outpatient centers and physician practices.
The system’s partnership with Mayo Clinic, which is soon to celebrate its fifth anniversary, has helped St. Clair recruit top talent, Collins said. Having Mayo as a resource allowed St. Clair to tap into its vast network and suggest best practices and processes. It also allowed St. Clair to offer patients free second opinions and gives the staff more resources to handle high stakes diagnoses or complex medical situations.
“One of the ways you get better is working with outstanding organizations,” Collins said. Despite the partnership with Mayo, St. Clair Health remains independent and it accepts most major insurances.
All of this refinement has led to the slew of national awards  St. Clair Health has racked up over the last few years.
Despite all the new technology and beautiful spaces, something else is the most pleasing to Collins: “I’m most proud of the people who work here,” he said. “The most important asset we have is the community’s trust.”