REHOBOTH BEACH — Beebe Healthcare is preparing to open its Specialty Surgical Hospital in May, signaling the completion of one of its more energetic expansion phases in its history.
Beebe finished construction of the four-story surgical center off Route 24 earlier this year, as part of a multi-million investment to surgical care and short-term recovery for Sussex County. Dr. David Tam, CEO of Beebe, announced that the health care system was not slowing down. Next step: create a state-of-the-art breast care center at its Rehoboth Campus.
“There is so much going on in breast health, and it’s such a prevalent disease and we believe it should be something that can be treated locally, not in a metropolitan, academic university to get 95% to 99% of care,” Tam said during a media tour of the surgical center Monday. “We are not stopping, we’re going to keep going to improve care for our community.”
The 135,000-square-foot Specialty Surgical Hospital cost $125 million to build and has four operating rooms, 18 patient bays for pre- and post-operative care as well as 24 private patient rooms for short stays. It will employ 150 people, including five breast surgeons, five orthopedic surgeons and two bariatric surgeons.
With Sussex County’s population boom, surgical volumes are expected to increase by more than 60% by 2025. To meet that growth head on, Beebe Healthcare broke ground on the surgical hospital in 2019, with a plan to move lower risk and elective bariatric, orthopedic and breast surgeries to the new site. Higher-risk cases will still remain at the Lewes hospital.
From the pre-operation bays with computers and high-tech vital sign machines to the layout of the surgical wing, Beebe Healthcare planned the new facility with streamlining the process and reducing turnaround time in mind. Beebe surgeons complete 30 to 35 joint replacements per week on average, and with the new surgical hospital, that may possibly grow to at least 45 procedures per week.
The operating rooms have large, flat-screen computer monitors to assist surgeons during the procedure and high-tech lighting controls to get maximum visibility for ultrasound or making deeper incisions. Other monitors are attached to cameras to aid in teaching medical students without risking sterility.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Wilson Choy, who also practices with Premier Bone & Joint Care, said that the new surgical hospital represented the past, present and future. With a foundation of trusted medical care in the Delmara community, Beebe is confronting today’s growing Sussex County with technological advancements like robotics.
“Our job right now is to improve on the foundation, improve on efficiencies, quality and safety, and that includes teaching and using robotics,” Choy said. “By using robotics navigation, we’re hoping to address some complex cases that are very difficult right now. You can do a good job without them – but implants can last 15 years, and as people get older, these implants can fail. We have to have methods of dealing with those failures.”
On the third floor, the hallway is marked with distance markers, to help patients understand how far they have walked. Each patient room has a flat screen TV as well as a pull-out sofa for overnight visitors. The third floor also has a private rehab room, including a mock car, kitchen and steps for hip and knee patients to test their abilities before they are discharged.
Beebe’s in-house pharmacy is in the basement, and a pneumatic tube system – similar to one at a drive-thru bank – can route medicine to any floor in the building. Beebe will also move its in-house laboratory services to the Surgical Hospital basement, freeing up more clinical space in the Tunnell Cancer Center in the next 16 weeks.
A second tube system that runs 1,500 feet between the two facilities can also expedite testing and sharing results.
The surgical hospital also has an X-Ray room — although portable X-Ray machines can be sent to a patient room as needed — and a CAT scan facility on the first floor. Beebe plans on relocating its walk-in care center on the Rehoboth Campus to the facility in June. The move will increase walk-in care capacity by 30%.
Beebe’s vision is to remodel the existing walk-in care space for the breast care center, so that patients can come to one space to have mammograms, biopsies, imaging, and surgeries if necessary. Construction on the breast center is expected to start this fall.
With the opening of the Specialty Surgical Hospital, Beebe is on the verge of completing three major projects launched three years ago. The $48 million South Coastal Health Campus in Millville opened for patients in 2020, and Beebe is still moving forward on renovations at its Lewes campus.
Tam told the Delaware Business Times that Beebe is completing its five-year strategic plan, and now needs to assess its next move. But he also made clear that expansion will still continue, it may just be more in-house than shovels in the ground. The surgical hospital also has a fourth floor that currently sits empty, and ready for Beebe’s next move.
“Moving some of our patients from the Margaret Rollins campus [in Lewes] will give us the capacity to start doing things there as well as amenities,” Tam said. “We’re looking at what we’ll be doing in our coastal campus, which has been very busy, but there is an opportunity to grow there.”
In the more immediate future, Tam said Beebe is preparing to break ground on a medical office in Milton as well as renovate the medical education facilities at the Lewes Campus. Beebe recently received a $3 million donation from the Ma-Ran Foundation for that effort.