November 10, 2013

Gleaming new hospital welcomes new patients, first babies

MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Alfond Center for Health opened with few snags and ahead of schedule, said hospital officials

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The first baby born at the new Alfond Center for Health was followed, one minute later, by her twin brother.

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New digs: MaineGeneral rehabilitation patient Tom King, of Shawmut, said on Sunday that the previous day’s move to the new hospital in Augusta was flawless. His private room has a view of the courtyard.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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DELIVERING: Nurse Julie Smithson, right, lifts day old infant Hannah Veilleux away from her twin, Samuel, attended by nurse Tracey Thornton, at MaineGeneral’s new neonatal intensive care unit in Augusta on Sunday. The siblings, born five weeks early, were the first babies born at the new hospital.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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And if Samuel and Hannah Veilleux had come just one day earlier, before the move of the maternity department to the new hospital from MaineGeneral hospitals in Augusta and Waterville, the tiny, pink-skinned twins and their parents likely would have had to be transferred to Portland or another hospital.

That’s because the babies of Tim and Nikkia Veilleux, of Waterville, were born five weeks early, and required the care available in the new hospital’s Level II Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a unit which was not available either at the old MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta or Thayer Center for Health in Waterville. The unit, staffed by specially trained nurses and certified pediatricians, is for babies born premature after 34 weeks, who, hospital officials said, generally require advanced care and close monitoring.

“I really didn’t want to go to Portland. It’s just too far away from Isaiah,” new mom Nikkia Veilleux said of being in Augusta, where they are closer to their seven-year-old son. “We’re closer to home here. It’s easier for everybody.”

The couple came to the new hospital Saturday, at first thinking they were just coming for a checkup, after Nikkia’s blood pressure climbed. They arrived around 9:30 a.m., just a few hours after the new, $312 million facility opened. At 3:14 Saturday afternoon, Hannah was born, followed, at 3:15, by her twin brother.

They’re doing well, Tim Veilleux said.

On Sunday, Nikkia’s parents, Robert and Darus Vear, visited the couple and Hannah in their room. Samuel was just down the hall, still in the neonatal care unit. The two babies were together briefly and turned towards each other as they were placed side by side. Hannah, silent next to her brother, cried when they were separated.

“They’re more comfortable together than they are apart,” noted nurse Jennifer Riggs.

While there were a few glitches with being among the first patients in a new hospital — the Vears said they had a hard time getting through the locked door to the maternity wing and when Nikkia pushed a button seeking a nurse, it set off an emergency alarm that brought staff rushing to the room — the family raved about the care they’ve received, the gleaming new building and the caring staff.

On Sunday, the hospital’s visitor parking lot was about half-full with cars, and about 130 patients were inside, a slight increase from the 120 patients moved into the facility from Thayer and the old Augusta hospital in a closely coordinated patient moving day Saturday.

Among the patients moved from Thayer was Tom King, 73, of Shawmut, who was hospitalized due to a stroke three weeks ago and is undergoing rehabilitation at the new hospital. He was driven with other patients in a van, and saw the hospital for the first time as he was moved in.

His first thought when he saw the new facility: “Wow.”

“I have a beautiful room, and you can see how nice the view is,” King said Sunday, gesturing out the large window of his private room, overlooking gardens, fountains and a small pond, while his wife of nearly 54 years, Deanna, sat next to him. “I’ve been in hospitals from Boston to Portland, and never seen anything like this. I think it’s wonderful. I’d rather be home, of course. But I’ve got my wife with me, so I’ve got everything.”

One thing King was pleased didn’t change with his move to the new hospital was he still has the same staff members caring for him. He calls them his “angels.”

A nurse on the rehabilitation unit, Shari Mather, said the move went so smoothly “it was like pushing the easy button.”

While it may not have all been easy, hospital officials said the move did go smoothly, and well ahead of schedule.

Sherri Woodward, senior vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer, said there were a few snags but nothing major and the move was made with no injuries to patients or staff.

She said patients are telling hospital staff they love the natural light, the gardens and the quiet of the new hospital. King confirmed the new facility is, indeed, quieter. He said he didn’t hear a thing and slept peacefully Saturday night.

On Sunday, physician practices moved into the hospital, with some planning to open today.

Thayer Center for Health in Waterville will continue to serve patients with a round-the-clock emergency department and outpatient services. The hospital is due for a $10 million renovation project that Chuck Hays, chief executive officer of the hospital’s parent company, MaineGeneral Health, said would start this week.

The old Augusta hospital on East Chestnut Street is completely closed, though the hospital has access to it until January. Hays said the former Augusta hospital will continue to be home to their back-up data center. He said, in a year or so, some physician practices may be located in the old building, which was purchased by Augusta East Redevelopment Corp., a subsidiary of Kevin Mattson’s Mattson Development. Mattson plans to renovate the old hospital for new uses.

All departments are up and running at the new hospital, and four surgeries have already been performed there, Hays said. He and Woodward praised staff for their work during and leading up to the move to the new hospital.

The hospital was designed with a nature theme that runs throughout the building. Woodward said she’s already learned of patients who previously showed little interest in looking outside sitting up in their rooms to check out the view at the new facility. And she said on Saturday night, at least one family member of a patient slept on the fold-out seating that converts to a bed in each of the patient rooms, all of which are private rooms.

Officials noted private rooms not only provide more privacy, but also reduce the risk of infection.

The hospital was funded by $35 million in grants and gifts from the Harold Alfond Foundation, $12 million from 5,550 donors and $280 million in bonds to be paid back over the next 30 years.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647 kedwards@centralmaine.com

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