Sarasota Memorial Hospital Venice campus fulfills artistic vision as it prepares to open – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

VENICE – Spacious, and full of light, the interior of the new Sarasota Memorial Hospital Venice Campus looks more like a modern art museum – especially since the ceiling in the main entryway spans two stories. 
That elegant esthetic, along with an easy-to-navigate interior, were major goals of Flad Architects when they designed the new campus at 2600 Laurel Road East, Venice. 
Sharon Roush, president of the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Venice campus, said that the finished project far exceeded the original depiction on early computer animations. 
Earlier this year: Sarasota Memorial Venice campus could open in early November
Also:Sarasota Memorial Hospital Venice campus still on pace to open for patients in 2021
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“I’ve showed that video a number of times,” Roush said to a gathering of local media attending a press tour of the $437 million facility Thursday afternoon. “If you go back and look at it, it’s very similar but much better.” 
Dr. Christpher L. Jefferson, a family medicine physician who is the first chief of staff at the new campus, agreed. 
“I’ve never been in a hospital that was this beautiful,” he said during an interview hosted in a soothing, blue second-floor meditation room, near the birthing suites. “Most people that come in, they’re blown away by the light, just being able to look out. 
“Every room has a view and the surgical suites, by far, they’re double what you’d find in most places.” 
After the facility licensure inspection this week, it is on pace for what can be described as a phased opening, Roush said.
First, the hospital will start accepting emergency department admissions. 
Once there have been 30 admissions, that triggers Medicare certification, with a goal of being fully open by the end of the month. 
While construction remains on budget and on time, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no formal grand opening – though a ribbon-cutting for staff, with a few elected officials and other dignitaries was held Oct. 28. 
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The hospital will open with 110 private patient suites, a 28-bed emergency care center and six surgical suites, plus two surgical suites dedicated for OB emergencies.  
In response to lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, modifications were made to expand a negative-pressure ventilation system to convert all or part of the ICU critical care pods into pandemic units. 
Roush had previously said that all 22 beds of the intensive care/step down unit could be converted to negative pressure rooms.
In the adjacent 60,000-square-foot medical office building, some practices on the second floor already opened. 
While the office complex does have a connection via the second floor to the 350,000-square-foot hospital, the main hospital entrance is the ground floor opposite a central fountain – a feature architects designed so patients and family members inside can easily use a landmark to orient themselves, while walking the gently curved interior hallway. 
Despite the Laurel Road address, the main access is off of Pinebrook Road, opposite the entrance to Plaza Venezia. 
An entrance off of Laurel Road is a more direct route to the Emergency Department, though the Florida Department of Transportation has yet to grant permission for westbound Laurel Road traffic to make a left-hand turn into that access point. 
Visitors entering the first-floor lobby immediately see the reception area, gift shop and a wide corridor that leads to the garden cafe and coffee bar, which offers everything from salads to prepared meals in a kitchen that includes a gas-fired pizza oven. 
The southern wing on the first-floor includes registration, medical records, non-clinical support services and the cashier.
The northern wing includes a departure lounge, the health connection wellness hub, pre-admission testing and radiology, as well as a link to the emergency department. 
The public facing area, which Roush frequently called “the front of the house” features a variety of artwork selected in consultation with the Venice Arts Council. 
Other rooms feature artwork as well, and are designed to soothe patients and help take their minds off of an ongoing procedure. 
All the emergency rooms are private. Two larger rooms, referred to as trauma bays by Roush – who noted that unlike the Sarasota campus, the Venice campus is not a trauma center – allow for more medical personnel to work with a patient at once. 
Jefferson added that those rooms would be used with “10 people in there at one time drawing blood, radiology coming in, two or three nurses two or three doctors 
“A very busy place when there’s a trauma-type situation, patient stabilization.” 
Progressing toward the back, where procedures are performed, there’s still ample space but fewer windows. 
Services that can be grouped have been, for staff efficiency with, for example, staff technicians cross-trained on both magnetic resonance imaging and CT scans. 
Lights for ceilings of interior corridors, where patients may be transported via gurney are offset, so those looking up won’t see institutional style light panels. 
On the fourth floor, which includes the 22-bed intensive care unit and 26-bed cardiac care unit, each private room has an iPad-like device on the outside, where nurses and doctors can instantly see patient information that’s pulled directly from files. Those connect to an interactive whiteboard – essentially a computer touchscreen – that doctors can use to draw a procedure and show patients and family members exactly what happened in the procedure. 
Flat panel television screens, immediately above the touch screens, all have cameras that allow for a nurse or physician to have a face-to face virtual conversation with a patient, using the iPad device in the hallway. 
“If there’s a contact-free environment that we want to keep, they can ask the question from outside, without putting on PPE to go in, and still have a face-to-face conversation,” Jefferson said. 
Patient rooms all have windows and couches that pull out into a bed, should a visitor want to rest. 
On the second floor, in the obstetrics area, the patient rooms include longer couches, for dads or others to stretch out a little bit more. In those birthing suites, the new mom can go through labor, delivery, recovery and post-partum care, so, they can spend their entire time in the same room with their baby. 
The third floor houses the mechanical and electrical support systems, while the fifth floor includes medical and surgical recovery suites, as well as the 26-bed orthopedic recovery unit.
When the hospital opens, services will include: a cardiology unit/catheterization lab; critical care and an ICU; emergency care; endoscopy, gastroenterology; general/vascular surgery; a labor, delivery and post-partum unit; laboratory/diagnostic testing; nephrology; neurology and neurosurgery; oncology; orthopedics; pulmonology; imaging and radiology and urology. 
Some specialties, including cardio-thoracic surgery, will still be available only at the Sarasota campus. 
Currently the hospital is about 90% staffed, Roush noted. 
“We’ve trained a lot of the staff up there (in Sarasota) but the past few weeks we’ve shifted them here to get really hands-on with the staff, getting comfortable with the building,” she said. 
Jefferson noted that are more than 600 physicians and 200 physician assistants and nurse practitioners credentialed for the Venice campus. 
In August, the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Board already approved a plan to add another 68 private patient suites that will boost the bed count to 178 at a projected cost of $113.66 million and could open as soon as April 2024. 
“We think that there is a huge need here in the area; we think that patients are more and more wanting the quality of care that Sarasota provides,” Jefferson said. 
The 65-acre campus is also has a 400-space parking garage and energy center that will allow the hospital to function in the event of a power outage.
The facility, built by Gilbane Construction, was designed to withstand a Category 4 hurricane.
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Roush noted that at least one and possibly two wings could be added to the Venice campus, though Sarasota Memorial still plans on building a hospital in North Port too. 
“You see the development to the south,” Roush said. “The medical office building, 60,000 square feet, that’s all First Physicians Group physicians. 
She added that is the first step in building a physician base in the southern part of Sarasota County that will be able to then expand into North Port. 
“That’s been one of the biggest challenges with North Port,” she added. “The medical community is not robust yet.” 
For now, though, there is the matter of opening the Venice campus, as well as the new oncology tower in Sarasota too. 
“On time, on budget, that was a feat – particularly in the pandemic,” Roush said. “We knew it was going to be beautiful but when you see it in real life, definitely it’s creating that warmth – it’s really what we were hoping for.” 
Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.