MILFORD, Del. — When Milford Memorial and Kent General hospitals merged in 1997 to form a large nonprofit health-care system serving two counties, officials knew that infrastructure would need to keep pace.
That’s why plans to build a $250 million health campus near Route 1 in Milford weren’t a complete surprise.
“They knew at some point in the future there would be a replacement hospital, and they prepared themselves for that,” explained Bayhealth Milford Memorial Hospital Administrator Mike Ashton.
In fact, since the merger, the board of the 168-bed Clarke Avenue hospital has reserved significant funds that will be complemented with bonds and donor support to fund the state-of-the-art campus.
While the size of the proposed inpatient hospital may be comparable to the current Clark Avenue site, it’s the size of the property—150 acres, compared to 22—that promises ample growth opportunity to meet the needs of the community for decades to come, according to Ashton.
That very component caused hospital officials to reject the idea of revamping the current location in favor of a campus model that will give patients access to physician offices and expansive diagnostic testing on the same site as the new hospital.
“Health care is changing and, at the same time, so are the needs of our community. After evaluating the direction of health care and conducting detailed research, we realized the community needs more than a hospital,” said Bayhealth CEO Terry Murphy. “The location and expansion of services really means more convenient access to comprehensive, higher-quality and better-coordinated care for many decades to come.”
In addition to the formal announcement in November, which included a press conference with Gov. Jack Markell and Murphy, Bayhealth launched a website, www.ImagineDe.com, that gives a detailed overview of the new health campus, scheduled to open in 2018. Residents are encouraged to visit the site and share feedback.
The new campus will be constructed along Wilkins and Cedar Creek roads in Milford and will give patients and emergency services easy access off the new Route 30 bypass, according to officials. While Ashton said it’s still too early to determine if the state-of-the-art campus will translate into additional jobs, the four years of steady construction will mean related jobs at the site, and the local economy could see a boost if the surrounding area becomes a draw for businesses.
Perhaps the biggest and most sensitive question for the board and the Milford community is: What will become of the Clarke Avenue site? Many longtime residents of this tight-knit community were born in the small hospital, which has existed since 1938 in the center of town. Answers are imminent but uncertain, according to Ashton.
“We’re hoping to make the decision as quickly as possible,” said Ashton. “But it’s more important to make the right decision.”
Acknowledging the hospital’s history, Ashton said the board is considering the best use of the site for the entire town and how to weave it into the fabric of the community as something else. The board has hired a firm with expertise in adaptive reuse of locations like the Clarke Avenue hospital, but Ashton could not speculate on what that use may be. The last big addition to the hospital was more than a decade ago.
In the meantime, plans are already underway for some of the new technologies that will be featured at the new health-care complex, including the latest in surgical platforms and the implementation of a new electronic health-record platform designed to integrate and enhance communication and services throughout the entire health system, said Ashton.
The board is about to enter the selection process of the architectural firm, he added.