By Pam George
Special to Delaware Business Times
If you’ve traveled on Del. 1 from Milford to Lewes, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the building under construction just off the highway. For months, the towering crane was hard to miss. This is the new Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus, and its six-story presence is imposing for more reasons than one.
Not only will the $314 million project expand Bayhealth’s services, but it’s also boosting the local economy. There are 1,850 jobs associated with the construction alone, said Terry Murphy, president and CEO of Bayhealth, which was created in 1997 by the merger of Milford Memorial and Kent General hospitals. More than 50 percent of the workers are Delawareans, and more than 50 percent of the materials come from Delaware-based suppliers.
And there’s more to come. “From an economic standpoint, it’s going to change the footprint for both Milton and Milford,” said Bill Pfaff, Sussex County’s economic development director. “I think it will be that far-reaching.”
Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe agrees. “The Bayhealth Sussex campus will have an economic impact that we’ve not seen before in Milford or even in southern Delaware,” he predicts.
Even as early as 1997, Bayhealth planned to replace the hospital in downtown Milford. The need was clear. Although the hospital’s roots go back to 1912 — when the Delaware General Assembly authorized the start of the 12-bed Milford Emergency Hospital — the downtown campus began as a 100-bed hospital in 1938.
There were expansions over the years, including a four-story addition in 1954 and a 12,000-square-foot cancer center in 2001. In 2004, the emergency department was enlarged. But the hospital, located on 22 acres, soon ran out of room. It’s surrounded by residences.
Meanwhile, the local population has continued to grow. Milford, located on the Mispillion River, straddles the border between Kent and Sussex counties, which are both undergoing rapid growth.
Between 2010 and 2016, Kent County’s population grew 7.7 percent while Sussex County’s population rose 11.7 percent. Compare that to New Castle County, which only grew 3.4 percent. In Sussex County, 25.8 percent of the population is over 65. It’s a demographic with high health-care demands.
Room to grow
The solution is a new hospital on 160 acres at Wilkins and Cedar Creek roads that has easy access from Del. 1. The campus that’s now under construction occupies 50 acres. “We have the ability to grow over time,” Murphy said.
The hospital will initially have 128 single-patient rooms to offer privacy and reduce cross-contamination, Murphy said. There is shell space to add more. Instead of mirroring each other, much like a hotel, the rooms will have an identical layout. Materials and equipment will be in the same area in each.
The significantly expanded emergency department will have a clinical-decision unit for patients who may need further testing to determine if they should be admitted to the hospital. “You can move patients efficiently through the emergency department without tying up rooms,” Murphy said.
Along with the hospital, the campus includes the 70,000-square-foot Bayhealth Sussex Campus Outpatient Center and an 85,000-square-foot, three-story professional building with medical practices.
Nemours will occupy 35,000 square feet of the professional building’s first floor. As a result, it will be known as the Nemours Building. Specialty practices will include neurology, endocrinology, allergy, orthopedics, physical and speech therapy, and radiology. Construction should start in late 2018.
Hospital construction is on time and on budget, Murphy said. The building is scheduled for completion in October 2018, after which Bayhealth will test systems. The official opening is planned for Feb. 1, 2019.
The old site will not sit idle. Bayhealth reached an agreement with Wilmington-based Nationwide Healthcare Services to buy the 22-acres campus and turn it into a skilled nursing facility with up to 300 jobs.
As far as jobs on the new campus, Bayhealth will need additional support staff for enlarged areas, such as the emergency department and the cardiac catheterization unit. Nemours anticipates hiring support staff as well as additional physicians in select specialties, said spokeswoman Nancy D’Argenio.
Pfaff, Sussex County’s economic development director, predicts the trickle-down effect will be “enormous.” The numbers bear him out. According to the American Hospital Association, each hospital job supports about two more jobs, and every dollar spent by a hospital supports about $2.30 of additional business activity.
Part of that growth will come from new businesses. Consider new physician practices, pharmacies, medical equipment companies. Then there are the services that cater to new residents and workers, such as dry cleaners and coffee shops, Pfaff said.
Shupe said new housing communities are popping up near the new medical campus and within the city of Milford. “We’ve seen movement that we haven’t seen since the collapse of the housing market,” he said. There are 6,000 homes approved for the area.
Going forward, the city will need to consider smart growth strategies that preserve Milford’s heritage, Shupe said.
For now, city officials and Bayhealth administrators have a positive outlook. “It’s good news all the way around not only for Milford residents but for anyone in Sussex County,” said Murphy.