Lebanon NH  – Trustees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) announced on Friday that they have unanimously approved and endorsed a plan for a major new construction project, estimated to cost approximately $130 million, including a third inpatient tower on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) campus in Lebanon.

At their quarterly meeting on Dec. 7, the Board enthusiastically affirmed a plan presented by D-HH leadership that would implement the first major capital improvement to the Lebanon campus since the 2015 opening of the Williamson Translational Research Building. The project plan includes a 132,000 square-foot, 60-bed inpatient tower, along with renovation and expansion of DHMC’s Emergency Department, and the proposed construction of a new parking garage on site.

The proposed construction and renovation plans, which will be finalized in the coming few months, are intended to address a number of mission-critical needs facing New Hampshire’s only tertiary care facility and improve care quality and patient experience. Demand for services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) has risen dramatically over the last several years, resulting in consistently high occupancy of its 396 licensed beds.  With occupancy rates that regularly run at 90%, DHMC is forced to divert approximately 250 high-acuity patients seeking high-level or specialized care to other facilities in New England because of the lack of beds and supporting space to accommodate them. Driven by demand for care caused by a several factors – including the aging of DHMC’s service area population, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s status as the safety net provider for New Hampshire’s rural health care network, and the growth of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System – the new tower is expected to provide access for the existing, unmet demand of approximately 3,000 inpatient admissions per year.

“This is a highly ambitious, but badly needed, step toward Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health’s future,” said D-HH CEO and President Joanne M. Conroy MD. “As the region’s only tertiary and quaternary care academic medical center, we simply must evolve to meet the urgent and changing needs of the growing numbers of people who seek our care. For some time now, we’ve seen demand for our care dramatically grow, and we’ve had success with our member hospitals in both states in making sure patients receive the right care, at the right time, close to home. But the increasing demands for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s specialty and high-acuity care, in all disciplines, requires us to expand our capacity so that patients can access that care here in Lebanon. This plan moves us decisively in that direction.”

The proposed four-story patient tower calls for two floors of single-occupancy inpatient rooms, totaling 60 beds; a floor to accommodate another 30 beds that may be added at a later date; and a floor for service and mechanical space.

“Our case mix index (an indicator of the severity and complexity of the cases hospitals treat) is among the highest in the nation,” noted D-HH Chief Clinical Officer Edward J. Merrens, MD. “This project is mission critical: it is key to ensuring that patients get the proper care in the right setting, and that our resources are used efficiently while anticipating future capacity needs. This will impact the entire organization, and our teams have thought diligently about how we can best do this. Our region needs us, and we must respond.”

The existing inpatient towers at DHMC opened in 1991, when Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital moved to its current location from its original home in Hanover as part of the $218 million DHMC project. The facility opened with five floors of inpatient rooms in two towers on the north side of the complex.  The current design proposes to situate the new four-story tower between the existing inpatient towers. A financing plan is being developed but it is anticipated that funding for these projects will come from a mix of equity, philanthropy, and debt issuance. Pending regulatory approvals, ground-breaking for the project is anticipated later in the spring of 2019, with completion over three to four years.

Increasing demand for emergency services has quickly outstripped the facility’s ability to manage incoming cases, with DHMC’s Emergency Department averaging approximately 32,000 patient visits annually. The last major renovation to the Emergency Department was in 2004. The plan endorsed by D-HH Board of Trustees calls for renovations and the addition of 14 evaluation and treatment rooms in the Emergency Department.

The proposed parking garage would include 400 spaces to accommodate patients and visitors to the new patient rooms and relieve some of the increasing demand for parking by freeing space in the outdoor parking lots.

“One of the keys to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health’s strategic planning is establishing the necessary infrastructure to enable D-HH to operate efficiently and effectively as a system, and to support future initiatives,” said Don Caruso, MD, MPH, President and CEO, and Chief Medical Officer of Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, a member of D-HH. “It is crucial that the capacity at New Hampshire’s only academic medical center meets the clinical needs of the communities it serves, and we are working together across the D-HH system, to ensure that the capacity at all member sites is optimized for our patient needs.”