Duke Raleigh Hospital to extend expansion

Staff WriterDecember 30, 2009 

  • 1998: Duke University Health System buys 186-bed Raleigh Community Hospital for $202million

    2004: Officials change facility's name to Duke Health Raleigh Hospital. Later, "Health" is dropped.

    2006: Hires long-timeWakeMed executive Doug Vinsel as CEO

    2007: Opens 85,000 square-foot medical plaza on thecampus

    2009: Finishes renovations to final patient floor

    2010: Scheduled to begin next phase of master campus plan

Duke Raleigh Hospital is preparing a long-range expansion plan that will continue transforming the once-sleepy community hospital into a specialty medical campus.

Since the Duke University Health System bought the former Raleigh Community Hospital in 1998, it has pumped nearly $120 million into renovations and improvements at the facility on Wake Forest Road.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we continue to spend at that rate" over the next 10 years, said William Fulkerson Jr., Duke's senior vice president of clinical affairs. "The initial proposal will be modest but the overall campus plan will be a large-scale undertaking."

Initial plans, which the Duke health system board is expected to approve next month, call for expanding the Raleigh hospital's emergency department and operating rooms. Some parts also will require approval from state regulators and could run into opposition from competitors.

Hospital officials have been working with the architecture firm HOK since March on a master campus plan that eventually could include replacing several aging medical office buildings.

The plan follows major changes in recent years at the facility, which had been largely neglected by its previous owner.

"When I got here, this was a fixer-upper, but the upside potential was very strong," said Doug Vinsel, who became Duke Raleigh's CEO in 2006 after nearly 22 years with larger rival WakeMed.

Duke has spent millions to renovate every patient floor, the front lobby, cafeteria and other areas. Duke also built a new parking deck and medical office building. The health system added new equipment such as a robotic surgery system and CT scanners.

New touches include modern decor and a grand piano in the dining area.

"A lot of this place was really dated, like stepping back in to the 1970s," Vinsel said.

The changes also meant dropping some services. In late 2004, Duke Raleigh stopped delivering babies, ceding that key service to Wake County competitors Rex Healthcare and WakeMed.

Instead, the facility has focused on specialty areas where Duke is strong, including neuroscience, oncology, orthopedics and cardiovascular care. The new plans include expanding surgical, heart and cancer services.

The shift has paid off. Duke Raleigh lost money in 2006, but has been profitable for the past three years. Officials expect net operating income of $1.6 million during the current fiscal year that ends June 30, according to a filing with state regulators.

"We're an organization in good financial health," Vinsel said. "We never want to get ourselves back in a bad position. We don't want to do too much too fast."

That's why expansions and improvements at Duke Raleigh are proceeding at a deliberate pace. That contrasts with a flurry of additions under way or planned by WakeMed, including a patient tower and women's hospital in North Raleigh.

All of the Triangle's hospital systems are positioning for continuing population growth and increasing demand for medical care. Expansions are under way at UNC Health Care System in Chapel Hill and at Duke's main campus in Durham.

Duke also has opened satellite facilities in Knightdale and Raleigh's Brier Creek, which help feed patients to its campuses in Raleigh and Durham.

With all the improvements recently finished and planned at Duke Raleigh, it's really the Duke health system that has final say on the facility's future.

"They have grown to become an exemplary part of the health system," Fulkerson said. "They're bent on delivering world-class care, which is what people expect when they walk into something that says Duke."

alan.wolf@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4572

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