Braving the weather, nearly 200 residents and hospital employees joined state and local officials to break ground for the new $11.2 million expansion and renovation at St. Martin Hospital in Breaux Bridge.

The project, which is funded through a bond approved by Hospital Service District No. 2 voters in March of 2018, will see the hospital more than double in size with an additional 30,000 square feet that will include a new nursing unit with 25 new patient rooms, a new, state-of-the-art MRI suite and a new surgical suite that will allow the hospital to offer surgical services for the first time. 

"After years of planning and studying how best to expand our community hospital, followed by the confidence of voters last March, we are finally breaking ground," said St. Martin Hospital Chief Executive Office Karen Wyble. "Because of the support of our community and elected officials, we can continue to expand our hospital and increase the services we offer."

Numerous state and local officials were on hand for the ground breaking, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, Congressman Clay Higgins and numerous members of the state legislature. According to officials, this project will be the largest construction project in St. Martin Parish and will allow the hospital to continue operating and serving rural patients for years to come.

"This new facility we come here to celebrate is simply the next step in the evolution of this health care facility. It is the next step that is the product of great leadership and great vision," said St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars. "It is only a next step; it is not the last step, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store for us."

Edwards said this expansion shows Louisiana's dedication to rural hospitals and pointed to his expansion of Medicaid in 2016 as a principle reason for why Louisiana has been able to avoid closing rural hospitals like its neighbors have been forced to do. In recent years, five rural hospitals in Mississippi and 17 in Texas have closed down while Louisiana has shuttered none of its rural hospitals according to Edwards. 

"When a hospital closes its doors, it doesn't just close its doors to the Medicaid population or the uninsured. Those doors close to everybody in the community, and that is why it's important that we maintain access to care for everyone in the community," Edwards said. "Through the expanded capacity we're going to have here, the great people here at St. Martin Hospital will be doing the Lord's work and helping the least of us."

According to Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Hospitals, the hospital will also be able to offer new outpatient procedures and services that the community wanted and needed by "using innovative approaches" to offer services not only in the hospital, but also in schools and parish jails through telemedicine.

The project also includes in its budget general site improvements and renovations to the existing patient rooms and the entire construction and renovation project is scheduled to be completed by spring 2021.

Acadiana Business Today: Here's what Capital One customers in Louisiana should know about data breach; St. Martin Hospital launches an $11.2 million expansion

Email Dan Boudreaux at dboudreaux@theadvocate.com.