Danville Express

Newsfront - September 14, 2007

High tech health care is costly

John Muir reaches out as it kicks off capital campaign

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Health care has never been so high tech, or so expensive.

Danville Area Chamber of Commerce members toured John Muir Medical Center recently to see the emergency facilities and learn about five-year expansion plans. John Muir will invest $800 million in it building projects, renovations and expansion of the medical center facilities.

"John Muir's profits are put back into our facilities," said Kimberly Low, capital campaign director after someone asked the difference between John Muir and a for-profit hospital. "We're designed to be a benefit to the community."

The tour began with the emergency room, where patients check into a small lobby and are triaged to gauge the level of urgency. The emergency services director was viewing an X-ray of a hand on a screen while on the phone with someone viewing the identical image, using the Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) funded by the foundation.

"The busiest times are from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday," said Susan Woods, a foundation board member who led the tour.

The emergency room will be renovated in four phases and will expand from its current 22 beds to 44.

John Muir-Walnut Creek is the trauma center for all of Contra Costa, Solano and Marin counties, and handles 1,400 cases per year. The helicopter pad in the parking lot will be moved to the roof as part of the renovations.

The group also toured the Radiation Oncology Department, to learn about the Novalis system, which uses radiation beams to precisely hit on and around a tumor.

"We can beam on what we need to treat," said department manager Margaret Murphy.

She explained that horror stories of side effects from radiation treatments are from decades ago when radiation was applied to large portions of the body rather than pinpointing the cancer cells plus a safety margin.

"We're 100 percent confident treating a tiny target," she noted.

The third stop on the tour was the Cardiac Rhythm Center, where cardioverter defibrillators are implanted. The facility rivals those in university settings and is unmatched in the East Bay, said Margaret Simor, director of clinical operations for John Muir Health System's cardiovascular service line.

The expansion is being funded by bonds, cash on hand and philanthropy, said Health Foundation President Milt Smith.

Margins are slim at John Muir, explained Smith. At most hospitals, margins around 2-5 percent are considered to be good.

"At John Muir, we're always shooting for margins of around 5 percent," said Smith.

The surplus is applied to the following year's operating budget.

"John Muir is noted for its quality medical staff," Smith said. "'High tech' and 'high touch' - that's what our money is used for. Salaries are about 40 percent of our budget."

Payments by insurance companies and Medicare are not necessarily what patients see on their bills, he said. The fees are negotiated between the insurance companies and the hospital.

"Everything is cleaned within an inch of its life," he also noted, which has a cost.

The five-year expansion at John Muir-Walnut Creek will add 234 new rooms, for a total of 410, including more private rooms, which have been proven to facilitate healing. The neonatal intensive care nursery will have its capacity increased from 19 beds to 34, with a combination of private and semi-private rooms for critically ill newborns and sleep chairs for parents. Three new inpatient surgical suites will be built for a total of 13, with room for the latest technology.

"A small group of residents and physicians made John Muir happen and now we are ready to take it to the next level," said capital campaign director Low.

The idea behind a community hospital is to offer sophisticated treatments so patients don't have to drive to San Francisco or Stanford, she said. John Muir is being expanded because of the increasing population in Contra Costa County plus to update with the latest medical technology. Also, the original building, from 1965, will no longer meet state seismic standards in 2013.

The John Muir Health Foundation has raised funds from its own board members, employees, physicians, volunteers, auxiliary, community members, foundation and corporations. It is now entering into the Campaign for John Muir Medical Center-Walnut Creek, which is the private support portion of the project.

The five-floor parking garage will be finished this year with 780 spaces, and the groundbreaking for the additional work is scheduled for early 2008. New construction should be finished in late 2010, and remodeling of the existing buildings completed the following year.

John Muir's Concord campus is targeted next for renovation, a $170 million project. John Muir Health also includes an outpatient center in Brentwood.

To learn more, call the foundation at 947-4449.

John Muir Medical Center expansion

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