Look over the balcony’s glass railing to the spacious lobby below, the natural sunlight flooding through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the chairs and tables invitingly configured for optimum comfort and conversation. Stroll down the grand staircase and wander into the Terrace Café, where the aroma of muffins and fresh coffee beckons and all sorts of delicious food options demand to be tasted. Or, wander outside and enjoy the soothing sound of the fountain and waterfall features on the patio before taking a leisurely walk through the tranquil serenity garden.
This is the atrium in the newly constructed tower at Lexington Medical Center.
The hospital is completing the largest hospital expansion in the state’s history, a massive $400 million project that reflects Lexington Medical Center’s continued commitment to providing superior health services to the people of the Midlands.
“We’re a community,” says Tod Augsburger, president and CEO of Lexington Medical Center. “Most family members and patients don’t choose to spend their day coming to the hospital. But our job is to try to make it as pleasant and as appealing of an environment as possible for when they do, unfortunately, have to be here.”
The gorgeously appointed atrium is just a small part of what the new medical tower has to offer. With 545,000 square feet of new space, the 10-story structure will have more than 200 patient beds inside. The project adds 71 beds to the already existing and always full 438-bed facility on the hospital campus in West Columbia. Eight new operating rooms, each equipped with cutting edge technology, and an expanded surgical recovery area have been added to accommodate the more than 19,000 surgeries performed each year at the hospital, and the newly built 951-space parking garage frees up coveted parking space in front of and around the complex for the convenience of patients and their visitors.
With more than 3,300 babies welcomed into the world each year by Lexington Medical Center’s team of obstetricians, certified nurse midwives, nursing staff, and doulas, the new labor and delivery unit is a welcome and medically advanced addition, complete with a newborn nursery, a dedicated mother/baby unit for postpartum patients, six antepartum rooms for patients needing extensive long-term monitoring, and a trailblazing 20-bed special care nursery.
pansion to fruition, more than 300 workers were on site daily since the May 2016 groundbreaking ceremony, all working feverishly to make the early 2019 opening a reality, giving Lexington Medical Center the opportunity to shine as the most modern, state-of-the-art hospital in the state.
Tod is quick to emphasize that while the new building is beautiful and the innovative concepts, technologies, and attention to detail do significantly enhance the level of care each patient receives, the hard work and professionalism of the devoted nurses, doctors, and hospital staff make Lexington Medical Center the preeminent institution it is today.
“We are very proud of the facility and have a tremendous amount of improvements and ‘nice spaces’ to help us care for patients,” he says. “But buildings and equipment don’t provide patient care — people do. We are even more proud of the tremendous staff, nurses, and clinicians who use this space as an extension of their skills to provide healing and service to our patients.”
The talented members of the Lexington Medical Center team maintained their impeccable standards throughout the three years of physical construction, and the project was miraculously completed on time, within the allotted budget, and with zero negative impact on in-patient satisfaction, which was an unprecedented accomplishment given the magnitude of this endeavor. How did they do it?
“We were building the building before we built the building,” says Mike Greeley, vice president of operations at the hospital.
Construction started in 2016, but planning for that construction began a full year before the first shovel ever hit the ground. Every department that either has space in the hospital or supports it in some manner — including labor and delivery, respiratory therapy, pharmacy, medical and surgery departments, engineering, and materials management — all had significant involvement with the architectural and engineering design teams.
“It is possible to construct an incredibly complex building extremely well when you involve the owner and the participants,” says Mike. “Typically other architects and builders in other cities design a hospital the way they have always designed hospitals. But this is our hospital, for our staff and our patients, and we wanted it to be done the way we practice medicine.”
Eliminating or drastically reducing change orders posed one of the great challenges. Modifications to design made after construction is underway typically cost an organization hundreds of thousands of dollars and tack on countless extra days to the original project timeline.
“The pressure that we put on our design teams and on all of the internal staff that worked with the engineers was significant,” adds Mike. “We wanted to make sure our spaces were optimized for exceptional care delivery, and we wanted our staff to walk in on day one and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, they thought of everything.’”
To achieve that goal, Mike’s team took the unorthodox step of designing mock-up rooms well before any real construction commenced. In a rented warehouse, located just five minutes from the hospital, four different types of patient rooms with adjacent bathrooms were built as simulated patient spaces. From carpet to ceiling tiles to finished walls to countertops and beds, each model looked and felt like an actual patient room.
“We had every element included,” he says. “The distance between the floor and the outlet in the wall; the number of oxygen, medical air, and medical vacuum outlets on the wall; placement of everything; the height of the garbage cans; the design of the shower; the layout of the shower, sink, and toilet — we mocked everything up in exceptional detail.”
Once the mock-up rooms were completed, groups of doctors, nurses, and staff were repeatedly sent in and out of these rooms while Mike’s team, the architects and the engineers, were all on hand to ask everyone the same questions: “What doesn’t work? What don’t you like? What do you like?”
Mike calls that year of planning and simulations the “project gold” and credits those countless hours spent asking questions and involving the very people who would eventually be using the facility with the outstanding success in constructing this remarkable new addition.
All the pre-building planning and intense focus on detail especially benefited the new labor and delivery unit. It provides all pre and postnatal services, including new labor and delivery suites, C-section rooms, recovery spaces, and specialized nurseries. The physician network includes nearly 30 obstetricians and certified nurse midwives who are among the first to welcome the Midlands’ newest citizens into the world.
“We are offering the finest delivery suites and obstetric services in the state,” says Tod. “And the private rooms in the 20-bed Special Care Nursery, for babies who can’t come home right away, is a first for the hospital as well.”
Parents are tremendously traumatized when they are told that they can go home, but their infant cannot. In most hospitals, these tiny, vulnerable patients are placed in intensive special care nurseries that might house a dozen or more bassinets, each with its own at-risk occupant. The private rooms allow the babies to stay out of a group setting, minimizing risk of infection and giving baby and parents a comfortable environment in which to bond privately.
“Each of those rooms provides privacy, comfort, and amenities, all supplied by the hospital,” says Tod. “There’s no added reimbursement required. This is just what our obstetricians and neonatologists believe is the best way to care for a premature baby.”
This new unit is part of the progressive development in quality care Lexington Medical Center has always provided for babies and their parents. Since opening in 1971, the hospital has delivered more than 100,000 infants. And it delivers more babies each year than any other hospital in the Midlands. To commemorate this remarkable feat, a photo mosaic featuring the faces of babies born at Lexington Medical Center in the past 48 years proudly hangs in the maternity unit.
That superlative care and an eye toward the continued improvement of medical services extends to all parts of the hospital. Lexington Medical Center operates a busy emergency department, and with more than 19,000 surgeries performed yearly, its surgical hospital is one of the most fully employed in the state. The eight newly added, technically superior operating rooms ensure that patients receive consummate care from a superb team of surgical doctors and nurses. Attention is also given to the environment in which those surgeries are conducted. Each new operating room includes a “clean suite” box — a ceiling system that hangs directly above the patient table and removes airborne particles and contaminants from the patient area while bathing the patient in HEPA-filtered air.
“We continually survey the latest state-of-the-art equipment for improved care in each of the areas we’ve built,” says Tod. “Now we’ve realized that with surgical services the more sterile the environment can be, above and around the patient, even in a sterile room, the better the outcome. We’ve significantly enhanced the airflow directly above the patient and the sterilization equipment and are doing our very best to minimize the potential for harm when one comes into the hospital.”
While all hospitals have the potential for the spread of infection, Lexington Medical Center is working hard to minimize that risk throughout the complex. Copper coating has been added to all “high touch areas,” such as door handles, toilet flushers, sink faucets, and IV poles, because current research indicates that copper can destroy germs and reduce the risk of disease.
“Copper is a natural germ killer,” says Mike. “Germs on a laminated over-bed table will still be there 24 hours later. Germs on a copper surface will naturally die because copper provides much less opportunity to transfer infection.”
Health and safety issues were always a paramount concern in the construction of the new tower, and occasionally that meant requesting a design detail that might have seemed strange or unnecessary to organizations that have been involved in building other medical institutions. For example, Mike’s team sought to eradicate the patient room threshold, that three quarter inch molding found between the patient room and bathroom in nearly every other hospital in the country.
“I didn’t want any thresholds between rooms where the public travels,” he says. “We have elderly people who can ambulate themselves in the middle of the night to the bathroom with their IV pole or walker, and thresholds can be risky. The architects didn’t like that — it’s complicated, it’s unusual, and it creates a construction challenge when building a bathroom. But we worked it out, we persevered, we were very insistent, and I’m really proud of the result. There are now no thresholds wherever the public travels.”
As a result of this small but significant detail change, Mike’s team expects fewer falls and fewer complications for patients and visitors walking in, out, and around the new building.
“We are proud of the little things we’ve done to take care of our patients and our staff and our physicians,” he says.
He is also proud of the team’s early goal to keep as much of the $400 million allocated to the hospital expansion project as local as possible.
“We didn’t want all the money to go out of state,” Mike says. “If we had local talent, local plumbers, local electricians, local you name it, we wanted them to have a chance at keeping that money in the area.”
Advertisements were circulated and a seminar conducted, all aimed at involving as many regional contractors and partners in the project as possible. As a result, more than $130 million was kept in South Carolina with more than $100 million remaining in the Midlands.
Keeping it local has always been a focus for Lexington Medical Center. As a stand-alone, single hospital system, it is the only hospital in Columbia that is locally owned and governed, with services directed solely to the Midlands community.
“Our most important focus is providing care to the community, with a local board and local support, so that we can meet the needs of our friends and neighbors,” Tod says.
Indeed, every element in the splendid new addition — sweeping staircases; sunlit lobbies; modern and threshold-less patient rooms; private baby rooms; technically advanced surgical suites; copper, germ fighting surfaces; and so much more — is just further evidence that the Lexington Medical Center doctors, nurses, and staff are unwaveringly committed to meeting the needs of the community and providing the very best care to all who enter its doors.