San Diego Business Journal

Scripps Mercy is waging a campaign to give its Hillcrest hospital a $203 million facelift that would double the size of its emergency department and trauma center, centralize cancer services and prepare it for upcoming earthquake safety requirements.

The renovations mark the biggest mo & #173;der & #173;n-i & #173;za & #173; & #173;tion in the hospital's 118-year history.

Construction will take place during the next five years, in preparation for a 2013 deadline to comply with California seismic safety standards. The hospital has already begun to make improvements on a nearby parking lot and utility plant.

Tom Gammiere, CEO of Scripps Mercy, said the upgrades are necessary for the hospital to keep its emergency room wait times at a minimum. The hospital, only one of two Level 1 trauma centers in the county besides UC San Diego Medical Center, treats about 54,000 emergency patients and more than 2,400 critically ill patients a year.

"It was designed to seat 30,000 and we're seeing over 54,000," Gammiere said.

Scripps Health, the nonprofit umbrella organization that operates the hospital, is contributing $153 million to the project. Gammiere said the hospital will borrow most of the money. It will rely on donations to pay for the remaining $50 million.

Employee contributions of $830,000 and philanthropic gifts from community leaders have contributed $27 million to date, according to Mary Braunwarth, executive director of the Scripps Mercy Hospital Foundation. This month, Scripps began a capital campaign dubbed "Caring for the Future" to come up with the remaining $23 million.

San Diego developer Conrad Prebys contributed $10.5 million in 2006 to kick off the fundraising effort. Other contributors include developer Douglas Barnhart and his wife, Nancy, and Girard Securities CEO Dick Woltman and his wife, Kaye.

"Downtown San Diego has woke up and we need a bigger, stronger facility to service the needs of the community," said Robert Horsman, president and CEO of San Diego National Bank and a co-chair on the capital campaign committee.

Horsman acknowledged it's a difficult time to embark on a capital campaign asking for millions of dollars from the community, but called it essential.

"I think this is such an important matter we can't afford not to pay attention to it," he said.

Ahead Of The Curve

Nationwide, hospitals are seeking ways of keeping up with increasing numbers of patients, including a large number of uninsured who seek treatment through the emergency room.

"There's issues related to overcrowding and long waits in our emergency rooms and we're trying to get ahead of that curve," Gammiere said.

Construction will begin next fall on the expansion of the emergency department and trauma center. The emergency department will grow from 27 to 43 beds, and two beds will be added to the two currently in the trauma center. Renovations to 10 operating rooms will expand workspace areas, and add robotic surgical equipment to two rooms.

The hospital's intensive care unit will add central monitoring stations, enhanced treatment areas and 10 private rooms. And cancer diagnosis and other treatments will be housed in a central location, called Scripps Cancer Center.

About $60 million will be spent on seismic upgrades to the building.