Years of planning and construction and months of training are set to come to fruition Saturday with a carefully orchestrated dance as patients and staff close down the temporary medical center that replaced Charity Hospital in the years after Hurricane Katrina and move into their new home at the University Medical Center.
The move, expected to take all day, marks the opening of the $1.1 billion medical center in Mid-City, described by officials as the most cutting-edge hospital in the region and a far cry from the Interim LSU Hospital that has housed them for nearly a decade.
Keithen Potts, the move manager, described the move as providing a sense of permanence, comparing it to finally getting to come home after a long time spent in hotels and temporary accommodations after Katrina.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said.
The move will require a massive effort. In addition to those on duty at both hospitals, more than 600 workers will be on hand to ferry about 200 patients into about 30 ambulances and stay with them as they make the transfer.
Everything will kick off at 6 a.m., when the emergency room at the Interim LSU Hospital will close its doors to new patients. Those already waiting for care there will be taken care of, but signs and attendants will direct anyone else to the new hospital from that point on.
Around the same time, patients will begin the relatively short trip from one hospital to the other.
The vehicles used for the move will be provided by Acadian Ambulance under a contract with UMC. That means New Orleans Emergency Medical Services still will be operating with a full complement of vehicles to respond to medical situations.
Families will be notified as their loved ones are moved, and a family representative will be able to be with each patient at the start, though they’ll be located to waiting areas during the move itself. Patients will have their names and birthdates checked throughout the process to make sure everyone is accounted for. Those who are unable to speak for themselves will have hospital advocates assigned to them.
Staff members have undergone more than 20,000 hours of training at the new facility and have gone through several drills to prepare for the move. In those tests, patients could be moved in as little as 10 minutes each, though officials are preparing for an all-day process.
UMC will open with 235 beds, the same number as at the interim hospital but just a little more than half of the capacity of the new facility. About 200 of those beds will be occupied once the patients are transferred.
The plan is to scale up to the 446 licensed beds at UMC as new staff is hired.
Charity Hospital was permanently closed after sustaining damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with the hospital operating out of its interim location on Perdido Street for most of the time since then.
The decision to close Charity sparked massive controversy, with many arguing that the huge 1930s building could have been fixed and brought back into service for a fraction of the time and cost of building a new hospital.
Some residents also were angered by the razing of several blocks of houses to make way for UMC and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center that is still under construction next door. That construction is scheduled to be completed next year.
About two years ago, the state privatized the facility by leasing Interim LSU and UMC to LCMC Health, which includes Children’s Hospital and Touro Infirmary, during a budget crunch.
To prepare for the move and to avoid unnecessary issues in moving patients, doctors have been putting off complex elective surgeries that would have been performed at Interim LSU since last week. The hospital, however, has not changed its discharge policies or put off other kinds of medical procedures.
Many patients have been eager to put off elective procedures until the new hospital is open so they can take advantage of the new facility and its up-to-date equipment, interim Chief Medical Officer Peter DeBlieux said.
UMC’s emergency room will be set up and prepared to handle patients immediately, an important consideration because it is the only Level 1 trauma center in the region.
“This is not a new book of work for us. It’ll just be happening in a finer facility, a state-of-the-art facility,” DeBlieux said.
However, EMS has been told to divert most routine medical cases to other hospitals until all the patients have been moved in order to avoid unnecessary complications.
“We’re trying to give them some time to get their ducks in a row,” said Liz Belcher, spokeswoman for New Orleans EMS. “We’re going to try to give them some time to get settled.”
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