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Taking Flight

Wing Memorial Hospital Opens New, $26.5 Million Building

The new intensive care unit at Wing Memorial Hospital in Palmer, one of the departments overhauled in a just-completed, $26.5 million expansion project, will soon be equipped with something called the VISICU system.

That’s a network that uses computer monitors to make each patient’s vital signs — among them blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and heart rate — viewable in real time by critical-care specialists at UMass Medical Center in Worcester, Wing’s parent hospital. Those same doctors can also monitor other patient information, such as current medications and recent test results.

Proponents of such ‘telemedicine’ technology note that even the slightest change in a patient’s condition can cause potentially serious effects, and the ability to alert doctors to such changes instantly — doctors who, in turn, can immediately notify on-site staff in the Wing ICU — ensures that patients get urgent care when necessary.

Compared to the manner in which hospital care was delivered only 10 or 20 years ago, that’s a long way for vital information to travel quickly. But Wing has come a long way in many other aspects, too, as evidenced by this week’s opening of the new, 58,000-square-foot Country Bank Pavilion on its campus.

The addition, named for the Ware-based bank that donated $750,000 to the $26.5 million project, replaces the former operating rooms, intensive care unit, ambulatory surgery unit, and inpatient unit. The original hospital building has been renamed the Paul C. Michalski Pavilion after a former CFO at Wing who was a key player in the hospital’s previous growth, said Wing’s president and CEO, Dr. Charles E. Cavagnaro III.

Investing in Tomorrow

The new operating rooms will help Wing more effectively deliver general and laparoscopic surgical services including surgeries of the colon and rectum, gynecology, neurosurgery, orthopedics, ophthalmology, podiatry, urology, and ear, nose, and throat, as well as thoracic surgery and cosmetic and reconstructive procedures.

The new medical/surgical inpatient unit features 18 private rooms and 11 semi-private units, with all beds featuring an unobstructed view out the window and the private rooms including recliners for family members to stay overnight.

The mix of private and double rooms “makes it much easier for the staff to put people where they need to be to get the best care possible,” said Edward Noonan, chairman of Wing’s board of directors, at last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by hundreds of hospital employees, dignitaries, and local residents. “Even though the total number of rooms hasn’t changed dramatically, it extends our ability to take people into the hospital. And with telemedicine capabilities, doctors can look in on patients directly from UMass.

“These are state-of-the-art operating rooms that no one imagined we would have here in Palmer,” Noonan added. “It’s spacious, and it’s your home when you or a loved one needs help.”

State Sen. Stephen Brewer said the expansion is one example of the type of health care investment needed to create jobs and keep Massachusetts on the cutting edge of the industry, another being the life sciences bill recently passed by the state Legislature to provide $1 billion over 10 years for what could potentially be an $8 billion sector.

“That’s a good economic multiplier and job creator, but more important was the person I met recently in Boston — a handsome young man in a wheelchair with Lou Gehrig’s disease.” The man had battled the disease for two years and didn’t have long to live, Brewer said. “I hung my head all the way back to my office thinking about the loss of this beautiful, talented individual. What we do for life sciences, how your tax dollars are invested for life sciences, is about alleviating the pain and suffering of your fellow citizens, and obviously we take it very seriously.”

Likewise, any public or private investment in health care of all kinds, including Wing’s expansion, continues to benefit society, Brewer said, noting that the average life expectancy in Massachusetts, which stood at 52 a century ago, has now surpassed 78. “I think increasing life expectancy and the quality of life for our citizens happens because of the work that happens here.”

At the same time, many of the speakers assembled for the ribbon-cutting ceremony on a rainy Monday morning spoke not just to the hospital’s technological advancements, but to a tradition of compassionate care.

State Rep. Todd Smola, who has four living grandparents, was one of those who touched on the human side of Wing, recalling various occasions when they were admitted to the hospital. “Nobody’s more grateful to the care here than the person standing here,” the Palmer resident said. “Whenever we came to the hospital to visit my grandfather or grandmother, the doctors and nurses took the time to ask how we were doing, not just the people they were caring for.”

State Rep. Anne Gobi noted that the hospital has made important strides in end-of-life care, including not only hospice care for the dying but bereavement counseling for families, among other services.

Now and Then

Wing’s expansion has cleared some space in the old, 111,400-square-foot building, and Wing administrators must still make decisions on the best use of that square footage. But at a time when Massachusetts residents are living longer, all the ceremony attendees said it’s important for Wing to remain in a growth mode.

“At a time when community hospitals are struggling to stay open, Wing is building and growing,” said James Phaneuf, vice chairman of Wing’s board of directors, noting that the hospital employs 600 people and has benefited from its membership in the UMass Memorial Health Care system beginning in 1999. “We couldn’t have reached this point without the close support of UMass Memorial.”

That system employs 13,000 people and treats some 3,000 to 4,000 patients per day, said John O’Brien, president and CEO of the health network. “In our system, some of the very best people we have work inside the walls of this hospital,” he said. “This has been a wonderful effort by this hospital to serve all who need help, and I am particularly thankful to this staff that does such an extraordinary job every day providing health care to everyone who comes through these doors.”

Paul Scully, president of Country Bank, resorted to a little humor in recounting the bank’s decision to financially support the expansion project. “When I started to write a check for $750,000, my hand started to shake, but then a voice said this is the right thing to do,” he said, then turned to Cavagnaro. “Thanks, Charlie, for helping me to finish signing the check.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal wasn’t able to attend the gathering, but his aide, Kevin Kennedy, promised additional federal funding for regional health care endeavors down the road.

“The critical nature of health care in Massachusetts and all around the country is not something that I have to explain to any of you,” Kennedy said. “Looking at this magnificent structure, you deserve to be congratulated.”

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