St. Luke's Hospital completes new $6 million patient wing

Patients were working out recently in the rehab center at St. Luke's Hospital in Columbus, N.C. The rehab center is part of the new $6 million patient wing.

Columbus, N.C. - Ken Shull used to have a larger office with a scenic view of the mountains.

The CEO of St. Luke's Hospital, a small 73-bed facility, recently gave up his familiar, comfortable space for the patients.

"The patients are the priority," he said, standing where his desk once set. "Losing my office or improving patient care? Patient care is the answer. No question about it."

St. Luke's recently finished construction on its new 15,000 square-foot patient wing. The project has been in the works for almost three years and cost $6 million. Because of the addition, Shull's former office with a view is now a physical therapy treatment room.

The new wing is great, Shull said. "It has been needed for some time. It has been a long time coming."

The wing's main hallway is lined with artisan stonework and natural light streams in from the windows. An inviting stone fireplace highlights a family waiting room at the end of the hallway.

The new patient wing is the first upgrade the hospital has made since 1991. It includes a new six-bed patient care unit and a state-of-the-art 5,500 square-foot rehabilitation center with a variety of exercise equipment, including, treadmills, recumbent bikes and mat tables. The high ceiling makes the room feel more open.

The new patient rooms are double the size of the other rooms in the hospital and more modern.

At 285 square feet, the rooms provide more comfort for family members visiting a patient and offer patients more room to maneuver. Bathrooms are full-sized and wheelchair-accessible, with a shorter distance required to reach them from the bed. The rooms are the prototype for future hospital rooms to come.

Five physical therapy rooms are connected to the new rehab center. A sixth treatment room includes a HydroTrack, an underwater treadmill for individualized aquatic therapy. The machine cost $65,000.

"This is new to us," Shull said. "A patient can go in, shut the door, and it fills up with water. Then a therapist can sit outside and watch how the ankles, hips, legs are moving."

In addition to all of the equipment used for physical rehabilitation, the new center also gives patients the chance to practice daily functions and everyday activities.

An Activities for Daily Living (ADL) lab incorporates a full bathtub and separate walk-in shower so patients can practice standard tub/shower movements.

The lab also consists of a fully functioning kitchen to simulate the home environment. Therapy stairs and a ramp/curb simulator help patients to walk and maneuver better. A car simulator allows patients to practice getting in and out of a vehicle after surgery or an injury.

"This new wing is designed for healing and recovery," Shull said in a statement. "It is designed for the comfort of our patients and families. This new wing signifies a new era at St. Luke's Hospital."

Shull said the small community hospital has faced many monetary challenges in the past, which is the reason why the expansion took some time.

Of the patients who visit St. Luke's annually, many of them are older. About 66 percent of the patients are medicare patients, according to the hospital.

The hospital's emergency department received about 10,000 patients in 2012, comparably Spartanburg Regional Health Care System's emergency center sees 100,000 patients each year, according to hospital data.

Building the patient wing and rehab center was possible with the support of the community and the commitment of the St. Luke's Hospital Foundation, which pledged $2 million through the "Building On Excellence" capital campaign, according to a written statement from the hospital.

"We bit off what we could chew," Shull said.

If any additions need to be made in the future, Shull said the new wing, which is currently only one floor, is designed to go three stories, if needed. He doesn't know what new additions might be needed in the future, but he knows one thing.

"The higher up we go, the better the view is going to get," he said, looking out a window as he stood inside the rehab center.

It's not just doctors and hospital administrators excited about the growth of the small hospital. Excitement is growing in the small community.

Virginia Clark has volunteered at St. Luke's for 23 years. She works one day each week inside the gift shop by the main entrance.

"Why wouldn't I be excited?" she said. "I don't want to have to drive to Spartanburg or Asheville or Hendersonville (for health care). It's great to see this place growing."

St. Luke's Hospital opened in 1921. It began with three doctors, four nurses, one housekeeper, a cook, a maid and a houseman. Today, the hospital has more than 400 employees, an $8 million payroll and offers a wide range of services. Of the 10,000 patients who visited the emergency department last year, Kathy Woodham, the hospital's spokeswoman, said only 3 percent were transferred to another hospital because of services not provided.

"This expansion is long-overdue and absolutely necessary to accommodate an increasing number of patients, who choose St. Luke's Hospital for excellent nursing care, advanced orthopedic procedures and rehabilitation," Woodham said in a statement.