(Daily Montanan) Its cost hasn’t even been calculated because the design is just beginning.

However, for the next five years, St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, which was part of SCL Health, will be constructing a new hospital to replace the current one in the downtown medical corridor of Montana’s largest city. SCL recently merged with Intermountain Health Care to become the largest medical organization in the state and region, with strongholds in Denver and Salt Lake City.

As the merger passed just the 90-day mark, Billings’ oldest hospital announced plans to construct a new hospital facility downtown, on the same campus it’s occupied for more than a century. The healthcare company had considered locating somewhere else in town – on the west end where it owns land near Shiloh Crossing, or possibly in Billings Heights.

However, when all the options were laid out, St. Vincent will remain where it’s been, and it will build a new hospital where a large parking lot sits along North 27th Street, a busy corridor that connects with Interstate 90, Billings Heights and the airport.

The hospital’s historical footprint, coupled with the convenient location, means that the new hospital site won’t necessarily change, but the campus will as health officials plan for the growing urban center as well as providing regional support for the state’s frontier healthcare landscape.

The construction of the facility will take at least five years, said Krikor Jansezian, the chief operating officer of St. Vincent Healthcare. During that time, the current hospital, which covers the better half of an entire city block, will continue to operate while new construction is underway.

Sometime, probably in 2028, the new building and hospital will come online. Jansezian said the transfer of patients will likely happen in less than a day, and only after staff feels comfortable with a new system and space.

That’s part of the reason why the plans will take at least five years before they’re complete. Consultants and architects who specialize in medical construction said that supply-chain shortages and a tight labor market mean ordering products years in advance. Jansezian said that while labor may be able to build faster, it’s not really feasible to push the timeline faster given volatility in construction.

The process for the building is years in the making, said St.Vincent Chief Operating Officer Jen Alderfer. It began with a larger question: Should St. Vincent build in its current location or look elsewhere?

However, leadership decided that the central location, close to the city’s expanding medical corridor, plus its proximity to Montana State University-Billings, makes it essential to stay put, much to the delight of Billings city leaders.

The decision also allows St. Vincent to use the rest of the campus, which includes Marillac Hall, to have support services. Currently, the campus has three distinct parts, Marillac, which houses different support functions, like human resources; the Yellowstone Medical Arts Building, which is a collection of outpatient doctors and other services; and finally, the hospital portion of the campus, which is what most people are familiar with.

What becomes of the hospital space once a new hospital goes online is still yet to be determined, but the new hospital puts patients and care-providers in a much different setting. For example, Jansezian said that many of the current hospital floors have long hallways, with supply and other support services a long distance for some patients. Designing a new hospital will allow staff to give input about set-up and placement. One of the key concepts is to reduce the space between the care providers and the patients.

In the new hospital, every room will have the ability to be converted into an intensive care unit. This was a problem that confronted some hospitals, including St. Vincent, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hospital ran out of ICU beds, converting other rooms and parts of the hospital for more ICU beds.

“We’re building for the next 40 to 50 years. We have to grow it. We can’t build the hospital we need for today because it won’t be adequate when it opens,” Jasezian said.

That’s why St. Vincent is taking input from a variety of users, from patients to care providers.

The current hospital has a capacity of 253 beds. The new hospital calls for 295. The growth is, in part, a response to demographics, which show the county will grow 18%, or 32,000 people, in the next five years.

“Since we’ve come together with the like-minded IHC, they were aware of this project (before the merger), and it’s been strengthened by adding a different level of resources,” Alderfer said.

St. Vincent is going through the study and design process. For example, current the healthcare organization is looking at parking, and the layout of the campus could change depending on what the results of the study yield.

“We don’t want our associates having to park all day long with the caregivers in neighborhoods or at MSUB,” Alderfer said.

Healing is also an important aspect to consider in the new building, and Alderfer said that every patient room will have a view of the city, Rims or even mountains in the distance.

“We know the healing power of the right space,” Alderfer said.

Not all rooms in the current hospital have that view, or some look at another building.

Space is also being designed to accommodate more room for family members who want to spend the night with a loved one. And more space will be dedicated for family and caregivers in common areas where they can relax or spend time outdoors.

The new hospital will also be designed to optimize patient care and flow. That includes putting departments that are now spread out closer together.

For example, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit will likely remain closer to labor-and-delivery as well as children’s units.

The new emergency department will boast a covered indoor drive-through for ambulance and other transportation that can be cooled in the summer and warmed in the winter.

“This is such an opportunity to welcome people to a state-of-the-art building and state-of-the-art medical care,” Alderfer said.

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