Putting patients first

St. Clair Hospital’s new outpatient center, as seen from the intersection of Bower Hill and North Wren Drive

By fall 2020, St. Clair Hospital will have completed its largest expansion in decades, a sweeping $142 million revamp of its Bower Hill Road campus, including the construction of a six-story, 280,000 square foot outpatient center, a separate utility building and a new 300-space employee parking garage.

Gone will be the days when patients who need a simple blood test are forced to traipse across the expansive complex of interwoven buildings, the oldest of which was built in 1954. The trip will now begin with plenty of adjacent parking and a short, easy route to any type of outpatient service: surgery, physical and occupational therapy, pharmacy, lab, imaging, endoscopy, cardiodiagnostics, infusion or specialized care such as heart and vascular, ophthalmology, urology and orthopedics.

At the heart of the expansion are two factors: the hospital’s continued growth (Outpatient volume has increased 130 percent since 2006) and the desire to remake the campus for the future, says James M. Collins, president and chief executive officer at St. Clair Hospital. The project is the eighth largest building project in the region.

Collins credits the growth to the hospital’s excellent ratings and reputation as a leader for quality, patient satisfaction, safety and value. Unlike many regional hospitals, St. Clair takes all major insurance, providing access to 500,000 residents in the 38-community area it serves.

But remaking the hospital campus, which has been on the docket for at least a dozen years, involves flipping the model from doctor-centered organization to patient-centered care. Outpatient services will be pulled out of existing buildings and relocated to the new center, allowing for separate, zoned areas for in- and outpatient care. Like most hospitals, 70 percent of St. Clair’s surgeries are performed on outpatients, and the demand for minimally invasive procedures continues to increase.

When the facility is completed, a patient going in for a procedure will  have pre-op services, the procedure itself and recovery all in the same building, with plenty of room for family to wait comfortably. Privacy is a main concern, to be accomplished by the addition of 51 private rooms for patients to relax before and after services.

Ten operating rooms will allow for modernization. John T. Sullivan, St. Clair’s senior vice president and chief medical officer, says ORs will be larger than they used to be to make room for updated equipment, such as robotics, fiber optics and video screens, all of which leads to shorter inpatient stays. “We now know getting patients up sooner is best medicine,” Sullivan says.

The center will also include the relocation of the Sipe Infusion Center, medical imaging, an endoscopy suit with six exam rooms, conference space, a cafe, underground parking and a commercial pharmacy. The center will be connected to the main hospital on two floors. A cafe, outdoor promenade and a two-story atrium provide visual appeal. IKM is the project architect.

St. Clair Hospital outpatient center lobby view

Collins expects the project to further spur growth at the hospital but is quick to say he would support the project with zero growth to modernize the care and improve the campus organization.

St. Clair is part of the Mayo Clinic Care Network. Mayo is a leader in research and clinical care but also excels in operational excellence. Michael J. Flanagan, St. Clair’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, noted his team visited several facilities to glean details that might be helpful in the development of the project. At the heart of the change is the hospital’s goal of providing  “integrated care,” Flanagan says, which streamlines the services patients receive instead of making them report to different departments all over the hospital.

The project is expected to add 150 new jobs at St. Clair, Collins says. The Allegheny Conference’s Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh estimated it will add 1,632 direct and indirect jobs to the region and contribute $262.4 million in direct revenue to the region’s economy.

Not to be overlooked is the hospital’s participation in making Mt. Lebanon safer. Part of the project calls for a re-alignment of North Wren Drive and a reconfiguration of the intersection of Bower Hill Road and Firwood Drive. The intersection, which is currently offset, is a magnet for crashes. The roads will be reconfigured into a traditional plus-sign layout and the traffic signals and sidewalks upgraded. State Rep. Dan Miller announced in November that a $1.25 million state grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority’s Multimodal Transportation Fund Program will defray the $2.9 million cost of the intersection work. The majority of the hospital is in Mt. Lebanon but portions of it lie within Scott, requiring months of coordination of approvals and attendance at public meetings.

North Wren Drive entrance to the new St. Clair Hospital outpatient center

The employee parking garage  was completed this spring, freeing up more spaces in the main garage for hospital visitors. Construction on the utility building and relocation of North Wren Drive will begin in August, and the outpatient center will be complete by fall 2020. The project called for the purchase and demolition of the former Bower Hill Shops, which had housed restaurants, retail and offices.

The $142 million cost will be paid through a capital campaign, government grants, tax exempt bonds and cash, says Richard C. Chesnos, St. Clair’s senior vice president and chief financial officer. St. Clair is Mt. Lebanon’s largest employer, with more than 2,500 employees and 600 physicians. In 2007, the hospital generated $264.7 million in total spending, according to the economy league.

Other recent projects for the hospital include construction of an outpatient center in Peters, the renovation of an outpatient center in Bethel Park, addition of operating rooms and upgrades to the emergency department. It is the region’s fastest growing hospital, with an increase in market share from 19 percent in 2006 to 24.4 percent in 2016.