With the addition of a final steel girder, the North Carolina Heart and Vascular Hospital will reach a milestone in its construction on Wednesday with a “topping out” ceremony.
The Heart and Vascular Hospital will be eight stories tall and add 300,000 square feet of space to Rex Healthcare’s campus. Construction is slated to be finished in late 2016; patients will be admitted beginning early 2017.
The purpose of the expansion is to consolidate Rex Healthcare’s cardiovascular treatment into one space. Now, its services are spread across the hospital, which can be a challenge for patients and their caregivers, said Erick Hawkins, vice president of heart and vascular services for the UNC Health Care System, the hospital’s parent.
Rex Healthcare recently finished borrowing $150 million to complete the new hospital, prompting credit firms to downgrade the organization’s debt or revise its bond outlook from stable to negative. Rex’s total outstanding debt has grown to $279 million because of the project.
But Hawkins said construction – and he knocked on wood – is on schedule.
The new hospital will be a long-awaited update for Rex, which has not undergone a major renovation since the 1980s. There are plans to include, among other new features, a kitchen staffed by professional chefs intended to teach patients to cook with their hearts in mind.
Hawkins said the hospital’s design is also intended to be visitor-friendly. The 114 new patient rooms will be bigger than Rex Healthcare’s current rooms, which Hawkins said are a bit small.
Part of the reasoning for constructing the new hospital is that Rex’s patient base has been expanding, particularly to Eastern North Carolina, said Dr. William Newman, a cardiologist at Rex.
“I think it’s becoming more than a city hospital,” Newman said.
The Heart and Vascular Hospital will be the first of its kind providing care to North Carolinians, Newman said. He has been practicing medicine for more than 30 years and said he wishes he could have started his career in cardiology somewhere like the new hospital.
“I wish I was just getting started,” Newman said.