SPRINGFIELD -- McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center is embarking on a sweeping $80 million upgrade and expansion of its Springfield facility to better serve patients, hospital officials announced Thursday.

The work is expected to be completed by 2018.

The expansion will be the hospital's "most significant construction project" in more than 30 years, said Maurine Cate, CEO of McKenzie-Willamette, which is owned by Community Health Systems, a for-profit hospital chain based in Tennessee.

McKenzie-Willamette was built in 1955 as a community hospital. The 800-employee hospital became part of the Community Health Systems chain in 2007, and recently has reported several years of healthy profits, while achieving high marks on health care quality measures.

Local government and business officials said they are excited that McKenzie-Willamette is moving forward with the expansion, which they view as a boost for the Springfield community.

"It's a great new project for, particularly, our mid-Springfield area," Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg said.

"The hospital itself is part of the reason (the) Mohawk (area) has remained an active and vital part of the community," she said. "The expansion will bring in more services and people, so I would anticipate it would bring in more development."

Dan Egan, executive director of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said he views the spending as a "vote of confidence" by McKenzie-Willamette's parent company.

"Good for McKenzie-Willamette," he said. "Health care is very competitive. They belong to a national chain of hospitals and they could choose to put their money in a lot of different places, so I think that means a lot that they decided to put their money in Springfield."

The giant chain reported net operating profit of $217 million on net operating revenues of $13 billion last year.

The spending on new facilities and technology should benefit local health care consumers, said Ed Whitelaw, founder of ECONorthwest, an economic consulting group, and an economics professor at the University of Oregon.

"It will increase the competitiveness of the local market above what it would have been" if McKenzie-Willamette was not doing the expansion, he said.

Lane County's largest health care provider, PeaceHealth, opened its flagship Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield in August, 2008, and plans this year to complete $14 million of construction and renovations at its University District medical center in Eugene.

While many people who work at McKenzie-Willamette said they were ecstatic about the long-awaited facility expansion, others said they hoped it didn't come at the expense of investing in its work force.

"We agree that patients should be our number one priority," said Carrie Clark, a cardiac monitor tech in McKenzie-Willamette's Heart, Lung and Vascular Center, and a member of the SEIU Local 49 bargaining team. "So why has the hospital recently cut caregivers, making many of us do more with less, while simultaneously planning this expansion? What our patients need is quality care that comes from a qualified, dedicated community of caregivers. While we welcome the long-needed investment, expansion and upgrades to our hospital, it is time that the hospital do the right thing and invest in the community and its caregivers by providing good jobs and safe staffing."

Over the next few years, construction crews will renovate some areas, demolish others, and build new space on McKenzie-Willamette's 11.7-acre campus. They will add 153,000 square feet to the current 200,000-square foot hospital and renovate 56,000 square feet of existing space.

The hospital will stay open during construction, with little interruption for patients, Cate said.

The hospital has explored expansion for nearly a decade, including an ill-fated bid to move to the site of the River Ridge Golf Course in northeast Eugene.

"This has been a Springfield hospital started by door-to-door donations by residents; I didn't see a reason to move it," Cate said, after she announced the hospital's plans to a small group of employees, board members and media.

"It feels great" to reach this milestone, she said. "It feels like it's really a gift to the employees and to the medical staff."

When the project is completed, one change patients will notice immediately is the conversion from shared to private rooms. That's a response to patients' expectation for privacy and it will reduce the hospital's total number of patient rooms to 98 from 113, Cate said.

It also reflects an industry-wide shift to more outpatient services and less inpatient services that require an overnight stay, said Dr. Christopher Walton, immediate past chairman of McKenzie-Willamette's board of trustees. The most visible outward change will be the addition of a second patient tower next to the existing tower, with a 60-foot breezeway, hospital officials said.

The new tower will serve as the entrance and lobby to the hospital. It also will house patient rooms, a new four-bed Level II neonatal intensive care unit and expanded surgical and cardiovascular units.

McKenzie-Willamette will double the size of its cardiovascular program and accredited chest pain center, to 16 beds, up from the current eight.

There will be 10 surgical operating rooms, up from seven, and they will be significantly larger, Cate said.

"The operating rooms were built in the early '70s," she said. "Technology didn't exist that exists today, so our operating rooms are undersized. I know our surgeons look forward to larger operating suites."

The expansion will increase the number and scope of procedures that can be performed in the new surgical unit. Last year, more than 7,800 surgeries were performed at McKenzie-Willamette.

The hospital's emergency department will expand at its current location, west of the base of the existing patient tower, to 20 private patient and trauma rooms, up from the current 17, Cate said.

The department, a Level III trauma center, served more than 33,000 patients last year.

Work begins Friday on cosmetic renovations -- everything from flooring to lighting -- of the hospital's labor and delivery rooms on the fourth floor of the existing patient tower. Between now and the end of the year, hospital officials will be seeking necessary approvals from state and local governments, Cate said. Then McKenzie-Willamette plans to break ground on the new tower in January 2015.

Two other area medical facilities are planning to open next year. The state psychiatric hospital in Junction City is slated to open in spring 2015, and the veteran's clinic in north Eugene is expected to open in summer 2015.

McKenzie-Willamette reported profit of $11.6 million and net patient revenue of $124.5 million in 2012, according to its latest filings with the state. That compares with profit of $15.4 million and net patient revenue of $126.8 million in 2011.

Follow Sherri on Twitter @sburimcdonald . Email sherri@registerguard.com .

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