Dartmouth Health says expansion will lower health care costs in long run

Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 5:57 PM EDT
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LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) - Construction is moving forward on a new, 200,000-square-foot inpatient pavilion at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Officials say, like other recent expansion projects, it’s designed to get people the care they need in the correct setting.

Dartmouth Health is in the middle of a major expansion on its main campus in Lebanon. It’s a $150 million project that officials say will actually lower health care costs in the long run.

“We are relatively undersized for the size of the community we serve,” said Dr. Joanne Conroy, the CEO of Dartmouth Health.

To meet that community need, the country’s most rural academic medical center is getting bigger. One way is a new 64-room inpatient pavilion which, among other things, will care for heart and vascular patients.

Every month, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center turns away hundreds of patients because they simply do not have the room.

“Currently, we turn away 500 high acuity transfers,” Conroy said.

Another expansion project just completed is the facility’s emergency department which now includes more beds for psychiatric patients, an issue that officials say got worse during the pandemic.

“The pandemic actually took a crisis and actually made it more pronounced,” said Susan Reeves, an executive vice president at Dartmouth Health. “Trying to separate mental health from other kinds of health is really impossible.”

Like rooms for long-term patients, the need for mental health beds is also great. At any given time in New Hampshire alone, dozens of mental health patients are likely waiting in an emergency room for a bed better suited to the care they need.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t enough services to meet the need and as a result, people often present acutely to emergency departments seeking urgent care for those issues,” said Dr. Christine Finn, the director of emergency psychiatry services.

The new larger emergency department with areas for group therapy addresses the needs of the patients who will likely be admitted there.

“Our society needs to turn toward mental health and substance use in the same way and with the same seriousness of purpose as we turn toward other health conditions,” said Dr. William Torrey, the interim chair of the psychiatry department.

It’s all connected-- like the construction. The projects are aimed at making the hospital more efficient with more specialized care. Officials say that’s made possible by having the capacity to move patients to the beds they need when they need them.

“It’s getting them out of the high acuity, very expensive setting and getting them to a place where they can recover quickly. That is how you actually control the cost of care,” Conroy said.

Along with the new beds, the pavilion is also expected to create hundreds of new jobs. It will likely begin accepting patients in the spring of 2023.