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    Mease Countryside plans expansion

    The $66-million project will take four years and bring new services to match the population growth in northeast Pinellas.

    By EDIE GROSS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000


    SAFETY HARBOR -- Mease Countryside Hospital will add a birthing center, enlarge its intensive care unit and increase its operating room space over the next four years as part of a $66-million expansion.

    High demand and a boom in the number of families in northeast Pinellas County have prompted the project, said Jim Pfeiffer, president and chief operating officer of Mease Healthcare.

    Several facilities west of U.S. 19, including Helen Ellis Hospital in Tarpon Springs and Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, offer obstetric units. But that kind of care is lacking on the east side of U.S. 19, particularly in the north end of the county, Pfeiffer said.

    "We feel there is a community need in northeast Pinellas County for obstetrics and neonatal services," Pfeiffer said.

    Construction at Mease Countryside, which is on McMullen-Booth Road just south of Curlew Road, will begin in January. The obstetric unit at Mease Dunedin Hospital will move to Mease Countryside around February 2004, he said.

    Hospital officials are studying the possibility of turning the birthing center at Mease Dunedin into an ambulatory surgery center, Pfeiffer said. Until then, mothers-to-be can still take advantage of the birthing suites at Mease Dunedin, where patients have access to aroma therapy, postnatal massage and water birth facilities. All of those amenities will be available at Mease Countryside.

    "It'll only improve at Countryside," said hospital spokeswoman Leigh Wallace. "It's going to be top of the line, absolutely the most up-to-date OB situation you can imagine."

    The expansion gets off the ground just after the New Year when Graham Group of Des Moines, Iowa, breaks ground on a 140,000-square-foot medical office building on the east side of the Mease Countryside campus. The company will pay for and own the $16-million building but will lease the land from the hospital.

    That office is expected to take two years to build, Pfeiffer said. Once complete, physicians from other areas on the campus will move into the building, and their old offices and clinics will be demolished to make way for a five-story tower connected to the north side of the hospital. That should be finished in early 2004.

    About five years ago, the hospital added a three-story structure that wrapped around the main building. Starting in March 2001, the hospital will add a fourth and fifth floor to that structure, Pfeiffer said.

    That addition and the five-story tower will cost the hospital $50-million. The obstetric unit will take up the entire fifth floor, he said. Flad and Associates of Gainesville designed the expansion. Brasfield and Gorrie of Maitland will oversee construction.

    By the end of the project, the 144-bed hospital will have gained another 51 overnight beds: 24 for obstetrics, 14 for the intensive care unit and 13 for general medical and surgical use. Mease Countryside also will get 10 neonatal intensive care beds from Dunedin.

    The facility has five operating rooms now and plans to add eight more, Pfeiffer said.

    Officials also expect to add 60 "observation beds" for patients staying 23 hours or less. Those could be changed to overnight beds later if needed, Pfeiffer said.

    During construction, the hospital will offer free valet parking for visitors and patients. The hospital will try to keep the noise and inconvenience to a minimum, Pfeiffer said.

    "It has to be transparent to the patient or visitor," he said. "They have to think no construction is going on. We're going to try to minimize as much as possible."

    Patient demand supports the expansion at Mease Countryside, Pfeiffer said. Since the hospital formed a partnership with Morton Plant in 1994, admissions have risen 118 percent and emergency room visits have grown 78 percent, Pfeiffer said.

    The hospital is expected to handle more than 12,000 admissions and 40,000 emergency room visits this year. The facility has 100 percent occupancy in the winter.

    The hospital moved its pediatric care unit from Dunedin to Mease Countryside three years ago. In Dunedin, it averaged between one and two patients a day. At Mease Countryside, that has blossomed to between six and seven, Pfeiffer said.

    "It's kind of like real estate," Pfeiffer said. "Location, location, location."

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