New Porter hospital opens its doors to patients
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent August 25, 2012 11:02AM
A worker carries a sign announcing the closing and move of Porter Hospital in Valparaiso early Saturday Aug. 25, 2012. Similar signs were placed over Emergency entrance signs as the ER closed to new patients shortly after 6am Saturday. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
By the numbers
Old: 250,000 square feet
New: 430,000 square feet
New hires: 126 within the first two years
Old: 13 acres
New: 104 acres
Updated: September 27, 2012 11:38AM
VALPARAISO — It didn’t take long for Porter Regional Hospital to settle in to its new role in the community.
Shortly before 6:30 a.m. Saturday, the first ambulances began rolling in with patients from the Valparaiso campus of Porter Health System, at 814 LaPorte Ave.
Yet even as the long-awaited move to the new hospital, at 85 E. U.S. 6 in Liberty Township, was taking place, the day shaped up to be much like any other in the life of a hospital.
A woman arrived in labor. Doctors conducted an endoscopy. A Valparaiso Fire Department ambulance showed up with lights flashing.
In all, 35 ambulances transported 95 patients from the old hospital to the new. The transports — which began at 6 a.m., when the LaPorte Avenue facility closed and the new campus opened — were complete in less than five hours, one to three hours ahead of schedule.
An infant in the neo-natal intensive care unit was the last patent transferred from the old hospital to the new one, arriving at 10:45 a.m.
“We are on time, without an hitches, without any issues,” Jonathan Nalli, chief executive officer of Porter Health Care System, said during a news briefing shortly after 9 a.m.
More than 18 months of planning preceded a move that, along with staff and volunteer orientation, and equipment transfer, cost around $1 million, Nalli said.
Construction on the $210 million hospital was complete three months ahead of schedule; an adjacent medical building is scheduled to open this fall. The new hospital has 237 inpatient and outpatients beds, all in private rooms.
At 6 a.m., as the new hospital officially opened, employees raised the national, state and hospital flags outside. Employees could be seen inside the hospital, backlit and peering through windows that overlooked the building’s front entrance.
Karen Keltner, the hospital’s manager for marketing and communications, whooped as the flags went up, a sign that the new hospital was, officially, ready for business.
Ambulances from Porter and private companies Prompt and Superior, as well as a pediatric intensive care ambulance from Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne, handled the move.
The ambulances headed north on Indiana 49 to U.S. 6, while supply trucks, carrying medical carts and other equipment, followed Campbell/Meridian north to U.S. 6. The entire journey was just under 8 miles.
Paramedics transferred patients requiring the most critical care first, Keltner said, adding the hospital discharged as many as patients as possible before the move to simplify the process. A handful of patients arrived in the old hospital’s emergency room as the facility was about to shut down; paramedics transported them to the new building.
In addition to the hospital associates, Nalli credited the participating ambulance companies, as well as local fire and police departments, the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Porter County Emergency Management Agency, and other agencies with the smooth transport, which was conducted without lights or sirens.
“Not only is the move progressing, but traffic flow in and around Valparaiso has not been impeded,” he said.
Based on the hospital’s historic patient count and its census the last eight weeks, Nalli said Porter planned on 90 to 125 transports from one facility to the other. The transfer plans allowed for about 30 minutes per transport.
The glitches, he said, were minor ones: a radio that didn’t work; a phone with a bad battery; equipment that had to be scheduled for transfer at the last minute.
“The more pre-planning, the smoother it runs, and this has been running very smoothly,” said Russell Shirley, director of Porter County Emergency Management Agency.
Shirley camped out in the agency’s incident response truck by Living Waters Church, across U.S. 6 from the hospital, along with representatives from INDOT, the District 1 Taskforce Incident Management Team, and Franciscan St. Anthony Health. They monitored camera-projected traffic flow and weather, using laptops, flat-screen televisions and a Smart Board.
INDOT had 12 people managing traffic signals to help with travel times, as well as having electronic message boards along Indiana 2, Indiana 49, U.S. 6, and U.S. 30.
“We picked this time of day because the traffic is very light,” Shirley said.
By a little after 9:30 a.m., only a handful of patients awaited transport.
Nalli, who was at the LaPorte Avenue location when the patient transfer began, said many department heads were excited to work the last shift in the old hospital. The excitement level at the new hospital was obviously even higher.
“I’ve never felt a more lively buzz in my 13 years as a hospital administrator,” he said.