Cumberland Times-News

November 21, 2009

‘History in the making’

Transition ‘smooth’ for new Western Maryland Regional Medical Center

Kristin Harty Barkley

CUMBERLAND — Western Maryland Regional Medical Center opened early Saturday morning as scheduled, after more than three years of construction and five years of planning.

Corridors bustled with activity, as staff set about their new routines. By 1 p.m. — seven hours after the official opening — a peaceful sort of excitement had settled in.

A grand player piano serenaded visitors and staff in the lobby of the main entrance.

A security guard whisked down the hallway on a Segway.

A Medivac helicopter landed on the concrete pad outside.

“Our emergency department has been exceedingly busy since we opened at 6 a.m.,” said Barry Ronan, president and CEO of Western Maryland Health Systems, the parent company of the new hospital.

“We’ve had numerous ambulances. Lots of activity. Just your typical hospital.”

And yet, for Western Maryland, it’s a full 585,000 square feet of “new.”

The $268 million hospital — with expanded services and updated equipment — takes the place of the Braddock and Memorial campuses of WMHS, which were both permanently closed by Saturday afternoon.

For some, the transition is bitter-sweet.

“You know, my baby was born in Sacred Heart a lot of years ago,” said Regina Branson, a clinical RN instructor at Allegany College of Maryland, referring to the Braddock campus. Her eyes got a little misty.

“And I kind of grew up in Sacred Heart with my nursing career ... But like everyone says, this is history in the making.”

Branson, who led a group of students on a tour of the new hospital Saturday afternoon, was at the Braddock campus earlier in the morning, watching ambulance crews load and transport patients to the new hospital.

“It just went so smooth,” she said. “It was amazing. I didn’t see any glitches at all.”

That wasn’t a fluke. Hospital officials have been strategizing for more than two years to accomplish a seamless transition from old to new.

“Over the last two years we’ve had teams of people actually going into hospitals all around the country and assessing their moves,” Ronan said, adding that teams from hospitals in Washington County and Harrisonburg, Va., were at WMRMC Saturday to do the same.

“In fact, a year and a half ago, we also did two hospitals being consolidated into one hospital, similar to what we’re doing here,” Ronan said. “That was very helpful. That actually gave us the idea that we could in fact do this in one day.”

By 3:30 p.m. Saturday, all 154 patients had been transferred — 92 from Braddock and 62 from Memorial, said Ronan, who’s never been involved with such a massive endeavor.

“I’ve been involved in wings of hospitals and parking structures and conference centers,” said a fatigued, but ecstatic Ronan. “I haven’t gotten much sleep in the last couple months.”

Anticipation of the move has kept other staffers on edge, as well. Lonnie Gray and several coworkers from Laboratory Services took a break Saturday afternoon in the new hospital’s sprawling cafeteria, with multiple grills and drink stations. On opening day, food was free to everyone.

“I think it’s kind of a relief,” Gray said of accomplishing the move. For the last several years, Lab Services workers have floated between Braddock and Memorial hospitals, she said.

“We’re like, yay! We’re finally open,” Gray said. “We’re all together.”

For nursing student Taylor Crabtree, visiting the new hospital on opening day was inspiring. With other Allegany College of Maryland students, he spent time with patients before and after their moves, helping them adjust to their new environment.

“One was kind of nervous, but the others seemed to be coping well with the big shift,” said Crabtree, who is doing his clinical work at Garrett Memorial Hospital and was impressed by the size and scope of the new hospital.

For newcomers, its unfamiliar corridors might initially be intimidating. That’s why the mural just off the lobby looks so much like home.

Painted with vibrant greens and oranges, it’s a portrait of the town of Cumberland, with its signature steeples and winding mountain roads.

“We knew when patients came into the new hospital it was going to look very different to everyone,” spokeswoman Rogers said. “We felt that if we had a picture of home, they would be much more comfortable.”

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at kharty@times-news.com.