Besides replacement hospitals, most brand-new hospitals are built in brand-new neighborhoods to capture growing populations. And then there's 19-bed Outer Banks Hospital, Nags Head, N.C., which opened last week.
More than four centuries after the Outer Banks played host to the first English settlers in America, the $23 million hospital became the first to be built on the 130-mile string of long, slender islands that hug the North Carolina coast.
Although that first English settlement failed, the Outer Banks has long been home to 30,000 year-round residents and an average of 300,000 tourists per week during the summer. Patients who needed care that went beyond what was available at an urgent-care clinic and physician offices on the islands had to drive at least an hour and a half to the nearest hospitals, both of which are about 90 minutes away.
"When I took the job (in December 1999), we had 11 acres of sand and a few ideas in an architect's head," said Kathy Bailey, the hospital's president. "We've come a long way since then."
Outer Banks Hospital is a 60-40 partnership of six-hospital University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, Greenville, N.C., and Chesapeake Health, the parent of 260-bed Chesapeake (Va.) General Hospital.
A big challenge will be to staff the hospital when the Outer Banks' population swells during tourist season. Bailey said the plans are to double the physician staffing in the emergency room, which will see the brunt of the extra patients, use a lot of part-time nurses and grant few vacations during the summer.
The hospital's first patient, who entered the emergency room last week, was an example of what the hospital was built to do and how it can add services, too, Bailey said. The patient was stabilized before being sent on to a tertiary-care hospital in Norfolk, Va. But Bailey would like to add "some type of critical-care or monitored beds-that to me is the biggest thing," she said. "We can do most everything else, but any patient needing that type of intensive monitoring, we do have to transfer."