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Walt Kiwall, president of Stafford Hospital Center, puts out a call announcing the facility's opening while Stafford firefighter Catherine Harris looks on. View Photo


Stafford Hospital Center medical personnel eat lunch in the three-story atrium on opening day yesterday. The area's first new hospital in 110 years has 289 employees.
View Photo

EMT Sara DeMatteo (left) and nurse Laura Sacra check vitals for Mary Grey, the first patient at the new hospital. View Photo


New Stafford Hospital Opens

Stafford Hospital Center is now open
February 28, 2009

BY JIM HALL

For 110 years, the Fredericksburg area has been served by a single hospital. Today there are two.

Stafford Hospital Center opened yesterday morning, and within minutes the first patient walked through the doors of the emergency room.

Mary Grey, 75, arrived with her husband, Edward, and her son, Joseph. She was having abdominal pains, she told ER workers.

The family had been outside, watching the opening ceremony. She had been sick since the night before, Grey said, and Stafford was "a lot nearer" their Aquia Harbour home than Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg. Both hospitals are part of MediCorp Health System.

Stafford Hospital Center officials expect many county residents to do as the Greys did and seek care at the new 100-bed hospital. Within an hour of opening, three people, including Grey, had been treated in the ER.

Even before the hospital opened, on Thursday night, a man walked into the ER with a fishhook through his finger. He was sent to a nearby urgent-care center. Another early arrival was so ill when he drove up that a security guard called 911 for him.

By 8 yesterday morning, dozens of hospital workers, county officials and guests had gathered outside the entrance to cut the ceremonial ribbon and hear speeches.

Fred Rankin, MediCorp's president and chief executive officer, told the group, "This is the next step in the long and storied history of this community."

Soon after, Walt Kiwall, hospital president, climbed into the cab of an ambulance that was parked outside.

By arrangement, a Stafford County dispatcher set off alert tones and said: "Attention all fire and rescue personnel. Stand by for a special announcement from the president of the Stafford Hospital Center."

This was Kiwall's cue, and he spoke into the ambulance's microphone.

"I am pleased to announce that we are now open for patient transports," he said.

The Stafford facility opens with many of the services normally associated with an acute-care hospital. Yet its debut is also limited.

The hospital will offer full-time medical care, emergency care, maternity care, imaging, lab work, emergency surgery and an intensive-care unit.

Four types of doctor will be in the building around the clock: general hospitalists, obstetrical hospitalists, anesthesiologists and emergency-room doctors.

Radiologists will be there much of the time. And doctors in the community will be able to admit sick patients.

But elective surgery and planned births won't be available until April.

"We're going to make sure that everything is running the way it needs to be running," Kiwall said.

The hospital opened one patient floor yesterday: the second floor, with 40 beds. Staff has been hired to open another 10 beds if needed.

The remaining 50 beds on the third and fourth floors will open later.

Hospital officials chose to open on a Friday because it is not as busy as other days. A Friday opening gives workers time to work out the glitches before Monday and Tuesday, the busy days, Kiwall said.

In recent weeks, inspectors from at least 10 local, state, federal and private agencies have walked through the building to make sure it is ready.

One of the most important of those inspections was a multi-day review by the Virginia Department of Health, which issued a license last week.

Inspectors also checked the hospital's laboratory, pharmacy, cafeteria, generator, wetlands and nuclear material.

Representatives of the Joint Commission, the Chicago-based organization that accredits the nation's hospitals, visited this week and will return for an unannounced second inspection after opening.

Several, but not all, of the major insurance plans, including Medicare, Medicaid and Anthem, have agreed to include the Stafford hospital in their networks.

Kiwall said it eventually will be in the same insurance networks as Mary Washington.

The hospital also is expected to eventually relieve Mary Washington of some of its patient load. Kiwall said he is looking for ER visits and admissions at Mary Washington to drop 10 percent.

Jim Hall: 540/374-5433
Email: jhall@freelancestar.com

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