WATERVILLE — Construction is in full swing at Inland Hospital, where ground was recently broken on a $5.4 million redesign effort that staff members predict will improve patient care at the 48-bed hospital.

The project, which has been in the works for about a year, will make patients healthier in ways that are both obvious and subtle, according to Rick Barry, Inland’s vice president of Patient Care Services.

Things like central air conditioning, bed orientation, shower locations and nurse’s station placement all play an important role in patient health.

Many of the changes are being made to make patients more comfortable, Barry said, because comfort can lead to better sleep, which in turn leads to faster healing.

For example, wall air conditioning units will be replaced with a central air system that will keep the room at a more uniform temperature, adding to patient comfort.

Right now, the occupants in many of the unit’s multipatient rooms lie on beds that are at a right angle to the room’s entrance. In new, private patient rooms, the beds will be angled slightly away from the room’s entrance, allowing patients to focus on the television or the window to the outdoors. It may sound trivial but Barry said that the shift means patients can rest better, without the distraction of people walking back and forth in their field of vision in the hallway.

Of course, $5.4 million buys a lot more than just a handful of angled beds.

The new unit will have more private patient rooms, a change that not only helps patients to rest more easily but also reduces the chance of infections being spread through the hospital.

In addition, the modernization will replace a single nurse’s station in the middle of the hallway with two stations dividing the hallway into thirds.

With that change, nurses who currently have to walk about 30 steps to get to a patient at the far end of the hall will instead only have to walk half that distance.

“When nurses spend less time walking, they spend more time giving bedside care,” Barry said. That also plays into the idea of better rest for patients, because the redesign will result in less traffic past their doorways.

Another issue is patient transport.

When a sick or post-operative person needs to be moved, the transportation is an opportunity for injuries to happen, he said. Sometimes six staff members join efforts to lift a patient off the bed to visit the bathroom, shower, or another destination in the hospital.

The new rooms will come equipped with tracks in the ceiling for pulley-based systems that will allow a patient to be hoisted more safely by fewer staff.

Sara Dyer, community relations director, said that the system will be “more comfortable and dignified” for patients than having groups of people holding the patients directly.

The tracks will extend into the bathrooms, which will also be equipped with individual room showers for the first time. Currently, the unit has just two showers in a central location.

Barry said that the profile of patients in the unit has changed during the past 30 years, making the changes necessary.

“We have more obese patients now than we did 30 years ago,” he said, which is a factor in patient transport. Health care professionals also emphasize outpatient care more than they have in the past, which means that admitted patients are sicker than they were in the past.

“You don’t have a family bringing in Grandma because they just need a little break from caring for her,” he said. “Our admitted patients really need medical attention.”

Another benefit will come from the combination of the medical-surgical unit with the four rooms that make up the intensive care unit. The combination will further reduce the need for traveling time for medical staff; Barry said that it will also allow the intensive care unit to more easily take advantage of certain support services, including a secretary who will work in the medical-surgical unit.

When the project is complete, there will be 20 rooms, including six that can be converted to multipatient rooms if needed.

The project is being conducted in several phases over the next year, with a goal of completion in the summer of 2013.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

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