RICHLAND -- Chaplain Tom Becraft blushed as someone told him to speak up while delivering a blessing at Kadlec Regional Medical Center on Monday.
Becraft is more often called upon to comfort patients or families whose loved ones face serious or even terminal illnesses, and that kind of work calls for hushed tones, he said.
But Monday's event was a more joyous occasion -- a ceremony marking the opening of a new 29-bed acute care unit in the Richland hospital's River Pavilion tower -- where a raised voice was appropriate to carry Becraft's message to the gathering of about 70 Kadlec officials, employees and supporters.
"May this new sixth floor be a homelike sanctuary of wisdom and grace where people say, 'I care' and truly mean it," Becraft said. "May this new sixth floor provide space for brokenness to be healed, especially that brokenness that lies beyond the touch of ointments, pills and other treatments."
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The new unit, which opens to patients on Wednesday, marks the completion of the originally planned six floors of the River Pavilion tower -- a building that eventually will rise to 10 stories, making it the tallest building in Richland.
Kadlec initially constructed four floors, which opened in June 2008 with an intermediate care unit, clinical decision unit and 10 new operating rooms. The fifth and sixth floors were built as shells for future expansion that was expected to be years away, but high demand for health care led the hospital to open a $7.4 million pediatric unit on the fifth floor in November.
Construction of the 29 patient rooms, plus offices, nursing stations and staff lounge, on the sixth floor started 18 months ago and finished in May.
The tower was designed so that Kadlec could add four more floors, and plans are under way to begin that expansion if the hospital gets permission from the state to add beds.
"Nowhere in our wildest dreams did we anticipate in a couple of years we'd need the capacity this tower provides," Kadlec President Lane Savitch said during the ceremony Monday.
Todd Eppich, Kadlec's medical unit manager, said as he strolled through the new unit conducting tours that the sixth floor expansion doesn't add to Kadlec's overall bed count but allows the hospital to spread the beds out into more space so that every room in the hospital can be private for the first time in its history.
The hospital next will spend $300,000 to remodel a third-floor unit to convert semi-private rooms to private ones. The remodel will be done in groups of five rooms at a time so patients will still have access to the beds, Eppich said.
Kadlec staff worked with architects to design the new acute care unit with a homelike feel that will make patients more at ease in the hospital.
Each room includes a pull-out sofa bed so family members can stay in the room with the patient, plus a wall-mounted flat-screen TV that airs educational programs to help patients care for themselves when they return home.
The rooms are painted in muted earthtones and contain nature-themed artwork intended to be soothing. Eppich pointed to spots on one wall needing a fresh coat of paint marking where a picture had been taken down because it was judged not relaxing enough for patients.
Each room has computerized monitors to track patients' vital signs, plus a computer terminal tucked in the corner of each room so that nurses or other health care providers can check electronic medical records without leaving a patient's side, Eppich said.
The unit will have the capacity to house patients who just came out of intensive care, down to those who have recuperated and are ready to be discharged. Previously, patients would have been transferred from unit to unit as their condition improved, he said.
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; email@example.com