AUGUSTA — Little Mikayla Downs isn’t likely to remember it, but her mother, Heather, sure will remember who the second patient ever at the Alfond Center for Health was — her 5-day-old daughter.
Mikayla, who was born Tuesday at MaineGeneral Medical Center’s now former hospital on East Chestnut Street in Augusta, will have at least a teddy bear, from the Delta Ambulance crew who transferred her and her mother from the old hospital to the gleaming new state-of-the-art hospital in north Augusta, to remember the occasion.
“It was pretty cool, actually. It looked like a parade of ambulances,” Heather Downs, of Gardiner, said of their four-mile ambulance trip completed by 7 a.m. “When they told us we were moving, I thought it would be more hectic; but they did a good job making everyone feel comfortable. When we walked in, they had like 70 people there. All the employees greeted us. It was really nice of them.”
MaineGeneral Medical Center’s move of 120 patients from its former hospitals in Augusta and Waterville to the new Alfond Center for Health wrapped up well ahead of schedule Saturday, officials said. They’d expected the move to last until around 5:30 p.m., but the last patient arrived at 1:53 p.m. Saturday. All 120 patients were moved safely.
“It went incredibly well,,” said Chuck Hays, chief executive officer of the hospital’s parent corporation, MaineGeneral Health. “We’re so proud of the staff, and Delta Ambulance did a fantastic job. We moved 120 patients with no unexpected outcomes, about three-and-a-half hours earlier than expected. It was a very safe, efficient, incredible day.”
The move had been planned for about 20 months. Some hospital workers came in at 4 a.m. Saturday to get started.
A fleet of 16 Delta Ambulance rigs moved patients Saturday from the old MaineGeneral Medical Center on East Chestnut Street in Augusta and Thayer Center for Health in Waterville, starting at 6 a.m.
All Augusta patients were moved by 10:17 a.m., according to Joy Leach, a MaineGeneral spokeswoman, although hospital officials had estimated they wouldn’t complete the move of all the Augusta patients until early afternoon.
Completing the transfer of patients from Waterville to the new facility was done before 2 p.m.
The early move allowed the new hospital to allow families to visit patients Saturday afternoon. Officials had asked them to wait until 6 p.m. for the move to be completed.
“It was incredibly smooth,” said Hays, who was among the hospital staff members who greeted each patient as he or she arrived.
The day started with ambulances transferring critical-care patients from both hospitals. Then all remaining Augusta patients were moved, starting from the top floor and working down; and finally, all Waterville patients were moved.
About 30 nurses from MaineGeneral’s Alfond Center for Cancer Care, which is closed Saturdays, served as transport nurses, greeting patients at the old hospitals and riding along in the ambulances with them to the new facility.
Leach said patient liaisons provided families with updates on patients during the move.
Ten Delta Ambulance ambulances lined up at the main entrance to the old Augusta hospital early Saturday morning, with an ambulance departing every few minutes with a patient for the four-mile ride to the Alfond Center for Health, which opened at 6 a.m.
While Delta provided all the ambulances for the move, other ambulance services covered the 911 calls for Delta in its regular service areas, Hays said.
Workers removed, or in some cases covered, signs Saturday at the old Augusta hospital, including the emergency room sign, so passers-by would not think it is still a hospital, should they need treatment.
John Begin, a MaineGeneral spokesman, said the signs were taken down Saturday morning, and new signs were uncovered at the new hospital. A sign at the former hospital campus in Augusta announces that it is closed and directs hospital traffic to 35 Medical Center Parkway. A telephone was mounted outside the emergency room in case someone in need of care comes to the old emergency room. The phone will connect the person to the new hospital.
Begin said some patients used their cell phones to take photographs as they were transferred from the old hospital to the new, documenting their experience.
“Opening a new hospital is not something you do every day,” Begin said.
Hays said comments he heard from some patients as they entered the new $312 million facility included that it was the most beautiful building they had ever seen, and that the staff was great.
“That was really heartwarming to hear,” Hays said. “It’s never easy to transfer somebody from one location to another when they’re not feeling well. A lot of emotions were running. It was a truly wonderful day.”
Downs, outside the new hospital with her boyfriend, Jesse Mansir, late Saturday morning, said Mikayla was born Tuesday but remained in the hospital because she was born prematurely and was being monitored as a precaution. Mansir said she loves the new hospital, describing it as amazing and beautiful. She said the ambulance crew member with her and her daughter on the ride carried the baby into her room, and the staff brought them breakfast after the brief ride, during which the baby was monitored.
“They brought her over in a pod, strapped to a stretcher,” Downs said. “It looked like a little spaceship. They monitored her while they were moving her, just to make sure she was stable and everything.”
Sherri Woodward, senior vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer, said in a news release the hospital’s staff and partners were ready for the logistical challenges of the move.
“Thousands of hours of planning and training of more than 1,700 staff over the past 20 months was critical to achieving this goal,” she said. “But when it came down to it, the amazing commitment to serving our patients was the key factor in the overwhelming success of the move.”
Patient Thomas King, of Shawmut, who moved into the physical rehabilitation unit at the Alfond Center for Health, said in the news release he was excited about being part of history as the first person in his new room, and the last person to leave his old room.
Thayer Center for Health in Waterville will continue to serve patients with a round-the-clock emergency department and outpatient services. Hays said $10 million in renovations to Thayer are scheduled to begin this week.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647[email protected]