Hospital Spreads Its Wings

Medical center expansion set for 2002 completion

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At a projected budget of $5.1 million, Payson Regional Medical Center is getting an overhaul two new wings, some remodeling and the relocation of the facility's administrative offices.

"This is an exciting day for the community and for me," PRMC CEO Russell Judd said following Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony near the southwest corner of the hospital. "It's always fun to build something and to see progress and watch them put up steel and then add walls to it and finish it off on the inside. So personally, it's exciting."

The project which Judd expects to be complete in the spring of 2002 will involve the addition of a new medical surgery wing and an obstetrics wing, a complete remodeling of the hospital's kitchen, turning an old patient-care areas into offices and creating a new lobby and entrance.

That entrance will face the planned Main Street extension a separate project that will bring Main Street east of the Beeline Highway and directly to the hospital's front door.

Construction will begin within the next two weeks, Judd said.

"We're finalizing permits and town and utility issues," he said. "The project has officially started, but some of the infrastructure items have to be taken care of first."

Richard Miller of Earl Swenson Associates is the project's main architect, and construction will be handled by Kitchell Contractors, the same company that built the hospital's last add-on in 1996.

The latest hospital expansion plan has been in the works since Community Health Systems acquired the hospital in 1997, Judd said. The work to turn that plan into reality began in the spring of 1999.

Payson Vice Mayor Dick Wolfe, a groundbreaking ceremony speaker, recalled an era when the town's medical services were limited at best.

"There was a day when, if you got sick ... you went down to Boardman's Store at the corner of McLane and Main Street, and you'd buy your liniment, cough medicine, cod liver oil or whatever. And Mrs. Boardman, who was a retired nurse, would try to help you with your ailment.

"The other alternative was to drive down to the Valley, which was 100 miles, and in those days, that was one long, miserable trip ... So we have come a very long way."

Wolfe recounted the history of PRMC, which began as the town's first health clinic in 1954. It later evolved into the Lewis R. Pyle Memorial Hospital, which is now the hospital's B wing, and was remodeled for the first time in 1995. PRMC leased the hospital to Community Health Systems in August 1997.

"And now these two new wings to our hospital are the next big step," Wolfe said. "On behalf of the town, let me say that we're very pleased to see this happen."

According to Dr. Charles Calkins, PRMC's medical staff chief and Wolfe's ceremonial co-speaker, the time is exactly right to expand Payson's medical center.

"As they are building the highway from here to Heber, the shortest route from anywhere on the Rim to the Valley will be through this town, which makes us the gateway to the Rim," Calkins said. "That makes it even more appropriate that we have a high-quality medical facility."

Calkins cited yet another reason: the hospital's steady growth.

"Since 1996, admissions have gone up 30 percent ... surgeries have gone up 80 percent ... emergency room visits have gone from 4,400 to over 11,000 ... the outpatient visits and procedures have gone from 6,400 to 33,000 ... and since 1996, 30 new, full-time healthcare givers have come to Payson and surrounding areas," he said.

When PRMC leased the hospital to Community Health Systems in August 1997, CHS's purpose was "to bring the hospital back to financial solvency, because we were in a little bit of a problem," added speaker Ray Leavens, president of the Mogollon Health Alliance. "Since that date ... the hospital has reached financial stability. Its medical and non-medical equipment have been upgraded ... hospital management has worked diligently to bring more doctors to Payson ... and they arranged for a full-time helicopter, not only to take patients from here to Phoenix, but to bring patients here from all around the Rim community.

"With the completion of the new wing, PRMC will become, without a doubt, a state-of-the-art hospital, serving all of the Rim communities," Leaven said. "That's something we should be very proud to have."

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