Hernando County residents were greeted by a five-piece band Saturday morning as they took their seats outside Oak Hill Hospital's new North Tower for a ribbon cutting ceremony and tour of the facility.
Congressman Richard Nugent of the U.S. House of Representatives gave the keynote address, saying the celebration wasn't about "brick and mortar" but the quality of the people who work within the walls. Nugent added the best building in the world is rendered useless without a great staff.
Nugent, who served as Hernando County sheriff from 2000-10, reflected that back in 1984, Brooksville was the only hospital in the area. Nugent thanked CEO Mickey Smith for "leading this ship forward."
Dr. Walter Szydlowski, chair of the hospital's board, explained the evolution of the hospital, recounting that in 1984 the hospital had 96 beds, 150 by 1990 and opened the sixth floor in 1993.
"We did our first bypass here in 2006 and kept expanding. Now we have the North Tower," Szydlowski said, adding he recently toured Tampa General Hospital's intensive care unit.
"When I saw ours yesterday, wow," Szydlowski said, remarking the new facility is truly state of the art.
Sonia Gonzalez, Oak Hill's chief operating officer, introduced "key players" on the medical staff who helped take the expansion from a vision and sketch to a nearly-completed project.
Following the official ribbon cutting, guests queued up to tour the new, 70,000-square-foot, $50-million medical facility in small groups.
The pediatric emergency room, with bright, multi-colored walls, mobiles and balloons, was the first to open last October, explained Tracy Swetokos, clinical coordinator of the emergency department.
"We're trying to make kids more comfortable and reduce the stress level of being in the hospital," Swetokos said.
Swetokos said the unit, staffed with pediatric nurses, very much focuses on pain management, and has video game consoles in each of the eight rooms, as well as play areas, to distract patients and their siblings.
Other efforts to make the unit a "safe place" include numbing sites before a shot is administered, and fluids given subcutaneously — meaning fluids can be injected into fat tissue, and not necessarily a hard-to-find vein.
Swetokos said they like to "stay ahead of the curve" on research benefitting young patients.
Many who toured the North Tower, with its distinct earth tone colors and décor and soft lighting, were former patients, and the family and friends of hospital staff. Tours were given access to surgical suites, recovery bays, nursing and testing stations — many with live demonstrations from doctors and nurses who will work there starting in a few weeks.
Theresa Eatough, patient director and one of many tours guides Saturday, said opening day is not yet confirmed, but should be within a few weeks. Eatough said the new tower will be staffed by existing employees, with the exception of a few new hires.
Richard Linkul, marketing director for the hospital, said the multi-phase construction project is set to finish this fall. The hospital still needs to renovate 30,000 square feet of existing space, which will house "back areas," such as a central sterilization office, endoscopy and bronchoscopy suites and staff waiting rooms.
Linkul said plans are in the works for 2014 for a medical teaching program, which will allow students coming out of medical school to train in internal medicine and general surgery.
When complete, the Oak Hill expansion will be the largest medical remodel in Hernando County history.