Officially, Medical Center of Trinity opened Feb. 7. That's the day emergency and surgical services of Community Hospital of New Port Richey moved to their new home and a daylong caravan of ambulances transferred 112 patients from New Port Richey to Trinity.
As the first patient, Robert Frank of New Port Richey, arrived at 7:05 a.m., hospital administrators and staff met him at the door for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. For staff members, that ribbon was more like the tape at the finish line of a marathon.
The official moving day was the end of a complicated process that began more than 18 months ago.
So how does a hospital move with practically no interruption of service?
The process required a team effort, including some outside help, according to Thibaut van Marcke, Medical Center of Trinity's chief operating officer.
The first step was to get some expert advice from Health Care Transitions LLC, a company based in Aurora, Colo., specializing in moving and starting health care facilities nationwide.
"They've been in existence for 26 years, and this is what they do," van Marcke said. "They provided us with a toolkit and an infrastructure to execute this move."
The plan broke down the move's challenges into four main categories: operations readiness, occupancy function, patient move planning and education and training.
Kurt Hornung and his Information Systems Department got started on their job installing computers and communications while the building was still under construction. They needed it, because the IT department really had a two-pronged job in setting up more than 1,150 computers throughout the hospital.
"There's the administrative side and the patient care side," with two separate sets of technology, Hornung said. Many of the hospital administrative staff were able to move in a week before the official opening, which was nice, he said, because their systems could be squared away first.
On the patient care side, the new hospital has a computer in each patient room for medical information to be sent and accessed. The staff had to get acquainted with the system before they could start treating patients. Besides learning the technology, they had to get used to the place in general, things as simple as knowing where the storage closets were.
"Teams have been familiarizing themselves with the layout and blueprints for over a year," hospital CEO Leigh Massengill said.
While memorizing a blueprint helped, it was important for the staff to spend time in their new hospital before it opened.
"Getting the staff over for meaningful time has been a challenge," van Marcke said. There were orientation sessions in November, and the staff has even helped with the unpacking of equipment.
"They're helping get their units ready and you really see that sense of individual ownership start to take shape," Massengill said.
They had what are called "a day in the life" exercise, a full-scale rehearsal with volunteers filling in for patients. With the hospital in full operation, they played out a series of 22 mock situations to test themselves, the facility and the technology.
With these dry runs. Every system, every service was tested, with time to make adjustments before the first patient came through the door.
Transferring patients was the final step, the one step they were determined to do in a single day. To make the job a little easier, van Marcke said, they lowered the census a bit.
In the final weeks before the move, there was a point where both hospitals were fully functional, van Marcke said. The only interruption to hospital services was for the last few days at Community Hospital, when elective surgery and elective cardiac procedures were suspended to bring the patient census down.
Moving all 112 patients by ambulance in a single day meant keeping a pace of one transfer every five minutes or so. Pasco County EMS, Medfleet and AMR Ambulance Services joined forces to get the job done. Student nurses from Pasco-Hernando Community College were also brought in to assist in patient transportation.
As the ambulance caravan proceeded, critical care patients were spaced throughout the day.
As the big day approached, Massengill said the mood could be summed up in one word: "anxious."
"Anxiety has two definitions," she explained. They were anxious, as in eager to get into the building; and they anxious, as in nervous about finally making the leap.
By 4 p.m. the last patient had been transported and the day had gone without a hitch. A few days earlier, Massengill said she expected that for the first week or so she and many others would practically live at the hospital, making sure the breaking-in period goes as smoothly and everyone felt at home.
Actually, van Marcke added, at least from a psychological standpoint, a major step in that direction occurred a week earlier – when the hospital coffee shop opened.
"It was like whole new world in here," he said.