Construction Starts on Major Addition for Miami Hospital

Jul. 23--A red and white ambulance waded through human traffic Wednesday morning carrying these much needed supplies: shovels for Baptist Hospital officials to dig the first grains of dirt on the site of a $122 million future emergency center at the Kendall side.

Included in the plans: 100 exam rooms -- 20 dedicated for pediatric care -- up from 27 permanent beds in the main emergency room and 14 in the pediatric unit and 96 inpatient beds.

"This is truly the start of something big," said Lee Huntley, chief executive officer for Baptist Hospital, who orchestrated the ambulance scene.

The new 66,255-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in 2008, Huntley told a crowd of nearly 400. A seven-story, 1,000-space parking garage would open later this year.

The current ER, about 14,164 square feet, was built in 1985 to handle 40,000 patients. But officials say that does not fit the needs anymore. Some 153 patients come to the ER each day, and about 76,000 patients will come through this year, officials said.

"The staff and doctors undergo a heroic struggle every day as they have more patients than beds," Huntley said.

Officials hope to be attending another groundbreaking shortly, in spring 2007, on a sorely needed 30-acre Baptist Hospital facility in West Kendall.

The hospital is just part of a larger 160-acre General Growth Properties development on Kendall Drive between Southwest 157th and 162nd avenues that originally included a movie theater, a senior living center, shops, restaurants and more.

Though earlier this year, General Growth executives told The Miami Herald they were reevaluating the specifics of the project -- after ending an 18-month litigation battle.

On Wednesday, General Growth spokesman Jim Graham disclosed few details except that the company "is planning on moving forward with the project."

Jason Virelli, Baptist Hospital's assistant vice president for strategic planning and business development, said they must first finish improving the roads and other infrastructure issues before they can dig the dirt.

"We've been actively engaged in this process for the West Kendall hospital for three or four years so it can't come soon enough," Virelli said.

The West Kendall hospital, a sister facility to the Homestead Hospital scheduled to open in December, is licensed for 80 beds, but plans are to expand quickly to 300 beds.

The hospital would be equipped to perform CT scans, nuclear medicine scans and MRIs. Units include endoscopy, intensive care, labor and delivery and pediatric emergency.

Judging by the time it has taken to build Homestead Hospital, Virelli said it would be at least two years from the groundbreaking before the West Kendall facility is completed.

"We can hardly wait for construction to get started because it is so needed," Baptist Hospital spokeswoman Jo Baxter said.

About 20,000 of the 76,000 patients the main hospital treats each year come from the West Kendall area, Virelli said.

[Miami Herald, The (KRT) -- 07/24/06]