published Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Memorial Health Care System starts last leg of hospital expansion

For over a year now, the giant silhouettes of cranes have hovered over the horizon of Chattanooga’s Glenwood neighborhood.

As the machines hoisted beam after steel beam into the sky, another silhouette gradually joined them: The skeleton of Memorial Health Care System’s massive hospital expansion.

“At one time we were the only site in the country that had three cranes of that size operating at the same time,” said Lisa McCluskey, the hospital’s vice president of marketing and communications.

On Tuesday, just one more steel piece will need to be lifted. The bright-red beam is coated with hundreds of signatures, good wishes and prayers from Memorial patients and employees. It will be affixed to the very top of the hospital’s new seven-story North Tower, “topping out” the structure and launching Memorial into the final leg of its $318 million expansion and renovation project.

By next July, the 300,000-square-foot North Tower, or “heart tower,” is expected to open with 96 private patient rooms and cardiac rehabilitation. It will also be home to the new chapel for the not-for-profit hospital, which is owned by Catholic Health Initiatives.

The topping-out ceremony is a prelude to the grand opening of Memorial’s new South Tower Surgical Suite on June 23. That wing will be home to a host of new operating rooms, intensive care units and a sterile processing center.

“All the surgical suites are top of the line with all the latest features,” said McCluskey.

The hospital’s Glenwood campus has swarmed with construction activity since spring 2011. There were about 450 workers on the site at construction’s peak, McCluskey said.

“Our patients have been very understanding, very cooperative,” she said, adding that the hospital has not had to halt any of its services during the work.

After the North Tower is completed next summer, the hospital’s downtown expansion will be finished. Memorial is simultaneously working to finish its expansion at its Hixson branch.

The Hixson site’s 10-bed ICU was opened last week. New treatments also have been completed in the emergency department, with renovation ongoing in older sections. Construction there is also expected to be finished in 2014.

Hospital officials next hope to turn their attentions to expansion at the branch out in Ooltewah.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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