The examination rooms and nursing stations at Northern Light Mercy Hospital’s new emergency department are quiet now, but in a week, the first-floor medical wing will be a hive of activity.

“We are anticipating all rooms will be used fairly quickly,” said the hospital’s emergency department director, Alicia Paquette, during a media tour of the new facility Tuesday.

When the 17-room emergency department opens next Tuesday, it will mark the end of a 12-year project to consolidate Mercy’s footprint by relocating the hospital from downtown Portland to a campus next to the Fore River Parkway. All remaining emergency and inpatient staff will be moved from the State Street hospital to the Fore River complex next Tuesday.

The new emergency wing isn’t any bigger than the one in Mercy’s legacy hospital, but it is built to meet modern treatment needs. The State Street building was built in 1942, and when patients come in for examination and treatment, they are often divided by curtains, not solid walls. Nurses and doctors say it wasn’t built to suit contemporary medical equipment and procedures.

“We have still been able to provide great care, but it is outdated,” said hospital President Charlie Therrien.

In the new emergency department, patients will get individual rooms organized and equipped to be efficient and nimble, and therefore better able to care for patients, Therrien said.

“The whole design of our campus is flexibility,”  he said.

Charlie Therrien, president of Northern Light Mercy Hospital, talks to the media during a tour of the hospital’s new emergency department at its Fore River campus in Portland on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Medicine changes quickly, and the hospital, owned by Northern Light Health, wanted to make sure it could adapt to new challenges and expectations, according to Therrien.

Emergency room visits grew yearly before taking a dip early in the COVID-19 pandemic, but intake has grown again, he said. Even so, the new department wasn’t built specifically with a growing volume of emergency patients in mind.

“We didn’t design it to anticipate significant growth, but we are in a position to accommodate it,” Therrien said.

Mercy opened a new medical building and hospital at the 42-acre Fore River property in 2008. Since then, it has added another building for outpatient specialty and surgical care. If needed, the hospital has enough space to add more floors or even new buildings, Therrien said.

The seven-story hospital at 144 State St. that Mercy is vacating was purchased by housing developer NewHeight Redfern in 2020. A redevelopment plan submitted in 2020 called for adding three new buildings to the property and 550 new apartments, with half reserved for low- and moderate-income residents.

Mercy’s relocation and development of the Fore River hospital complex cost roughly $83.8 million.

There is no immediate impact on the cost of care at Mercy because of the hospital’s recent development, Therrien said. In fact, at total buildout the development will have about 77 inpatient beds, roughly the same as it does now.

Instead, it has focused on expanding outpatient care as a way to keep costs down, he said. Nowadays, patients getting commonplace surgeries such as joint replacement can recuperate at home without spending a few nights in a hospital bed, which lowers health care prices, Therrien added.

It is a strategy used by other, smaller hospitals around Maine as major medical complexes such as Maine Medical Center open more rooms for hospital patients, he said.


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