Hospital launches funding campaign

COLLEGE TOWNSHIP — A proposed Mount Nittany Medical Center expansion — including more single-patient rooms in the East Wing and a new cancer pavilion — will receive a boost from a $12.5 million major gifts campaign launched Saturday by the hospital foundation.

It’s the first campaign of this magnitude since the foundation was formed in 2003, foundation director Kim Neely said. Fundraising was previously part of the hospital’s promotions office.

Money raised will be used to add three floors to the East Wing, and the project is expected to cost between $38 million and $40 million, including work and financing.

It’s part of positioning the hospital as an advanced regional medical center — a place where all types of services are available locally instead of requiring travel — and expanding it responsibly while keeping pace with the growing needs of the region, hospital CEO Tom Murray said.

“We need a strong hospital, and that’s what we’re all about here,” he said.

Bids for the project are expected in late July, with construction to begin in the fall, he said.

The Commitment to Distinction campaign, which will feature honorary co-chairs Joe and Sue Paterno, and additional money raised by the foundation are in excess of the hospital budget, Neely said.

“This just gives the hospital some flexibility to address some other needs,” Neely said. “Philanthropy can help some of these competing needs.”

The foundation is a separate nonprofit from the hospital and supports programs and services by dispersing that money as needed.

“We have a sense of what the greatest needs are through the hospital budget,” Neely said.

She said a consultant’s study showed that people were ready to support a campaign by the hospital. The foundation has targeted donors that have the potential to donate $50,000 or more in this initial phase, which should last about 18 months, and is working to develop long-term relationships with those people.

A community phase will follow closer to the close of the campaign, but all donations are welcome at any time, she said. She said $7 million has already been committed. “That’s the community telling us it’s time,” she said.

The money will have an impact in numerous ways, said Dr. Jonathan Dranov, chairman of the foundation and of the campaign. He said it should increase patient comfort and privacy and help in efforts to recruit new doctors.

“Physicians want to come to a modern facility where they can practice their profession, and they can do it in a nice environment,” Dranov said.

He said the hospital has made great strides in recent years by adding programs, such as interventional cardiology and neurosurgery. More may be added to meet the community’s needs.

“We want to be able to provide it here,” he said. “I think the community has to realize it’s their hospital ... This is where they’re going to come when they’re sick.”

Sue Paterno said it’s a facility the whole community benefits from and should support.“You use it more than you ever though you would,” she said.

The Paternos have a mutual respect for all the hospital provides locally, Sue Paterno said.

“It’s something we believe in, and if you can help, you have to do it,” she said, adding the hospital — and the community — have come a long way in the years she and her husband have lived here. “We are growing. This area is growing so much we need to help everybody.”

The expansion is part of a 50-year master campus plan in conjunction with Penn State and Penn State Hershey. Through that plan, Penn State has committed the land surrounding the hospital to human medicine, Murray said.

That means the hospital, which sits on 29 acres, will be able to develop the outparcels surrounding the hospital, adding new medical office buildings to support the community with additional programs, Murray said. It could even double the size of the hospital over time if the need is there.

He said the hospital is exploring numerous possibilities, such as becoming a teaching facility, offering clerkships or maybe even a medical residency program.

“We’re too far behind the times. Now’s the time for this,” he said, adding that the hospital will mark 106 years as part of the community in July — though not in its current building. The original hospital was the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte.

The approximately 42,300-square-feet East Wing expansion will include construction of three floors. Two will offer medical and surgical care and one intensive care, which will include progressive care space.

The East Wing also will house more single-patient rooms and include a pavilion to house the cancer services, including a new linear accelerator.

The expansion, which has been planned for since the East Wing was added in 2004, is projected to open in September 2010.

Once that is complete, existing patient rooms will be converted to single-patient units but will still be able to serve as semi-private in case of a surge in admissions. The hospital is hoping to have between 230 and 240 licensed beds.

Murray said the semi-private rooms are a constant source of complaints, from the rooms being too small and noisy to concerns about infections.

“We know that these facilities are what our patients want. They’ve told us,” he said.

The cancer pavilion, which would encompass all of the hospital’s cancer services under one roof, will add about 10,000 square feet of new space and renovate about 4,000 square feet.

That approximately $6 million project that includes a linear accelerator for image-guided radiation therapy — meaning it targets the specific cells afflicted by the disease and doesn’t impact all tissue — has already been added and will be operational this fall.

“It’s like GPS inside your body that guides this,” Murray said, adding work on the concrete vault necessary for the technology has been completed. Jennifer Thomas can be reached at 231-4638.