Southern Ocean Medical Center’s Emergency Department Expansion Completed

With Meridian on Board, Who Can Guess SOMC’s Next Big Step?
Sep 05, 2013
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

The leaders of Southern Ocean Medical Center and its parent company, Meridian Health, might want to think about taking over the struggling U.S. Postal Service. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night nor Sandy kept SOMC and Meridian from completing their long-anticipated emergency department expansion.

True, the massive, $22.5 million project that tripled the size of the ED was originally scheduled to be completed by June. Considering, though, that since its groundbreaking in October 2011, work crews had to deal with an extremely rainy June this year, a July heat wave, near-tornado conditions just a few weeks ago, an economy that is still shaky after the “Great Recession” of 2007-09, and, of course Superstorm Sandy, an Aug. 29 ribbon cutting is the equivalent of receiving a cross-country letter two days after its posting instead of one.

So the mood at the ceremony was congratulatory, happy, even back-slapping. It attracted about 150 invited guests, including a host of local politicians such as 9th District Assembly members Brian E. Rumpf and DiAnne C. Gove, Long Beach Township Mayor (and treasurer of Meridian Hospitals Corp. as well as being the capital campaign chairman for the expansion) Joseph Mancini, Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora and Councilmembers Henry Mancini, Lori Wyrsch, Stephen Fessler and Robert Kusznikow. Also attending were Gordon N. Litwin, chairman of the Meridian Health Board of Trustees; Thomas  Kononowitz, chairman of the Meridian Hospitals Corp. Board of Trustees; Thomas J. Dolan, chairman of the Southern Ocean Medical Center Foundation; Joseph P. Coyle, president of SOMC; John K. Lloyd, president of Meridian Health; Marc H. Lory, executive vice president of hospital operations; Dr. Adam Lazarus, chief of emergency medicine; not to mention hospital donors, members of the hospital’s auxiliaries, physicians and nurses.

The Rev. James Occhipinti started the train of praises rolling when he gave the invocation and noted, “41 years ago this month, Aug. 1, 1972, our wonderful hospital opened.” Ever since then, said Occhipinti, God has blessed it.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two years since we were all here for groundbreaking,” said Lloyd. “What do you think, is this phenomenal?”

The hospital’s dedicated medical professionals and staff certainly deserved such an addition to their facility, Lloyd said.

“With the unfortunate arrival of Superstorm Sandy, this community and this hospital were challenged beyond belief. The physicians and staff would work 18 hours and then go out into the town to volunteer.”

Lloyd said the addition was badly needed.

“It’s been 3½ years since SOCH joined Meridian. Southern Ocean County is still growing, and it’s not just an old population, as proven by the Martin Truex Pediatric Care Center (one of the jewels in the new ED crown). When I was first down here, I said, ‘Joe (Coyle), show me the rest of the Emergency Department,’ and he said, ‘This is it!’

“Look down the road. In 2014, we expect 46,000 visits. In 2020, we expect 55,000 visits.

“Emergency rooms are the face of the hospital. Wow, do we have capacity, thanks to the trustees and donors. What a combination – trustees need to approve a project, and donors have to fund it.”

“At the Oct. 25, 2011, groundbreaking, I said, ‘When the project is completed, the ED will be at a new level,’” said Coyle. “It is.”

Coyle went on to stress the ED isn’t the only sign of tremendous growth at SOMC.

In 1972, he said, what was then Southern Ocean County Hospital had 54 beds. Now it has 176. Back when the hospital first opened its doors, it had but 17 physicians. Now it has more than 300 primary care physicians and specialists. Still, he said, the ED expansion stands out.

“This project is different. … Anybody in the community can use it. Every morning, 150 people wake up to a detour (in life). This project literally changes the front doors. … The facility has caught up with the staff.”

Coyle thanked the hospital’s auxiliaries (“those groups were here before a medical staff”) for contributing $3 million to the expansion but warned them, to laughs, “Don’t rest on your laurels.” He thanked the architects (Joseph E. Saphire and Ed Albarran), engineer (Frank Little) and builders (Ben and Joseph Torcivia and Michael Armento) who made the dream a reality as well as “the Meridian family.”

“This truly represents a major advance,” said Lazarus. “I started here nine years ago and never would have imagined this advance, 42 patient bays, a triage area, a behavioral health area, radiation. In the last year we became an accredited chest pain center and a primary stroke center. We can administer clot-busting drugs. There’s nothing more satisfying when somebody comes in who has lost use of one-half of their body and you give them a clot-busting drug and they can wave that hand at you as they’re going to their room. We have a four-bay pediatric center, and anything we don’t have, we can access K. Hovnanian (Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center – another member of the Meridian system). We’ve tripled the space, enhanced our services and enhanced our processes.”

Now, said Lazarus, the 150 people whom Coyle mentioned will have the “best possible experience.”

“How much better is it to be here today with a ribbon to cut instead of a shovel to dig into the ground?” said Dolan.

He added that he moved to Long Beach Island three years ago and immediately became involved with the Southern Ocean Medical Center Foundation. Little did he know just how involved he would become.

“I pushed. I said, ‘We can raise more than $5 million; we can raise more than $7 million.’ Next thing you know I’m vice chairman and then chairman. Be careful what you wish for.”

Dolan had special thanks for Peter and Debbie Goldman, “longtime supporters and volunteers,” as well as Tracy Armellino (for whom the hospital’s telemetry unit, where the heart rhythm of cardiac patients can be continuously observed via wireless computerized monitors, is named), the Truex family, Dr. Melinda Boye-Nolan and Mancini (“Joe’s family goes back for years with this hospital”).

The goal of the foundation’s fundraising program for the project, said Dolan, had been $10 million. To date, he said, $8 million has been raised.

“It really is a great community,” Dolan said of Southern Ocean County. “When you go through the facility (tours were given after the speeches were completed) think about what role you can play with the hospital. I hear all the time ‘My uncle had a bad experience (at SOCH).’ I go, ‘When was that?’ He says, ‘1984.’ That’s a long time ago. And what hospital hasn’t had a bad experience? But you each can make it an even better experience.”

In other words, the hospital’s expansion and improvement are far from over. Who knows, in 41 years people might be chuckling about how tiny SOMC was in 2013.

— Rick Mellerup

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