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Longview Regional Medical Center targets mid-July for start of expansion project

By Mike Elswick
June 21, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Construction should start by mid-July on a $40 million-plus expansion project at Longview Regional Medical Center, officials said Thursday.

Longview Regional officials and those with the hospital's parent company, Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems, on Thursday kicked off the biggest expansion project in the 30-plus years of the hospital's existence.

While not releasing the total expected investment the company anticipates, Michael Portacci, president of Community Health Systems Division II Operations and its 29 hospitals, said the Longview expansion would top the cost of another company hospital project in Arkansas that was in the $35 million to $40 million range. Without narrowing the range much, he said the Longview project would be less than $100 million.

"For lack of better words, we're going to have a completely new hospital built around the existing hospital," Portacci said.

Jim Kendrick, CEO of Longview Regional, said the kickoff represented years of planning. While the plans await final approval by the Longview City Council, he expected only minor tweaking in order for construction to get started in a few weeks.

"We're very excited. This is going to be a great benefit to this community," Kendrick said. He credited the hospital's positioning to kick off the expansion project to the efforts of Longview Regional's employees, local physicians and Diagnostic Clinic of Longview.

"We could not be here today without the cooperation of Diagnostic Clinic and the leadership of Bert Ratay," Kendrick said.

Diagnostic Clinic of Longview merged with Longview Regional in early March in a move that removed ownership interest in the hospital from Diagnostic Clinic physicians.

Dr. Robert Wheeler, president of Diagnostic Clinic of Longview, said the physician group was excited about the changes coming with the expansion. He said the technological aspects of the hospital's plans, with new equipment and technology such as an integrated patient medical records system, will be as important to patient care as the physical changes taking place on the campus.

"The most important aspect is - what does this mean for the patient?" Wheeler said. With an integrated patient medical records system, the movement of patient history between physician and hospital and back to the physician should be seamless while providing vital information to caregivers, he said.

Tim Vaughn, chairman of the Longview Regional board of trustees, told the 250 people in attendance that the expansion will positively affect the community with more jobs and an increased tax base.

"You are going to see an incredible sight going up here over the next 18 months," Vaughn said. "But this is about more than bricks and mortar - it's about what goes on inside - it's all about providing the best patient care possible."

Vaughn lauded the leadership, vision and perseverance of Kendrick during past months to get the expansion project underway.

While construction is going on, the hospital has leased parking spaces at Mobberly Baptist Church and will be busing its employees to and from the church to their jobs because it will be losing parking spaces on the hospital campus, officials said.

Longview Regional plans to add about 115,000 square feet to the medical center; renovate another 50,000 square feet and construct a new 60,000-square foot office tower. All of the patient rooms will be private acute care rooms, Kendrick said.



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