The plan to build a 94-bed eldercare facility on the campus of SMHC Sanford Medical Center has been revived with a new operator, and a new, inpatient behavioral health unit  inside the hospital building are expected to go online in 2020. The two projects and infrastructure improvements at the Sanford facility total an estimated $34 million and together are expected to add 90 new healthcare jobs. COURTESY IMAGE

SANFORD –Projects adding up to $34 million, including a new inpatient short-term behavioral health unit and construction of a new eldercare facility complete with a memory care unit at the Sanford Medical Center of Southern Maine Health Care, are scheduled to debut in 2020.

“This is a commitment to this whole campus,” said SMHC President Nathan Howell during an interview in the Founder’s Room at the Sanford campus. “Our intention is to develop the campus and this makes it much easier.”

The inpatient behavioral heath unit will replace a similar, but smaller unit currently located at the Biddeford campus. The project will include renovations to inpatient areas of the Sanford campus that have been vacant since the fall of 2015, and other improvements to the hospital’s infrastructure.

The $11 million project behavioral health project will generate upward of 50 new jobs and provide critically needed bed capacity for York County patients who are experiencing short-term crises with diagnoses like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders, said Howell.

Two projects, totaling $34 million are expected to bring about 90 new jobs to Sanford. A new inpatient behavioral health unit will be created at the SMHC Sanford Medical Center and a new 94-bed eldercare facility, to be operated by North Country Associates, will be built on the hospital grounds. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

Maine Behavioral Healthcare will operate the unit, as they do the current unit in Biddeford.

Over the last year, behavioral health cases have increased 20 percent, with now more than 250 cases each month at the emergency departments in Biddeford and Sanford, hospital officials said.

That has led to unacceptable wait times, said Dr. Robert McCarley, psychiatrist and vice president of medical affairs at Maine Behavioral Healthcare.

“The lack of short-stay beds in York County for patients with behavioral health needs is resulting in unacceptable wait periods for these patients who desperately require care,” said McCarley in a news release announcing the project. “These patients, who are our friends, neighbors and family members, often present at local emergency departments where they may wait extended periods of time for a bed, and in the process, cause a domino-effect of delays for other patients requiring emergency health services.”

Howell said behavioral health patients will still be seen in emergency rooms on both campuses, and if determination is made that the patient needs inpatient care, that will take place in Sanford.

Currently the Biddeford unit can accommodate 12 patients, who stay an average of 8 to 10 days. The new unit in Sanford will ultimately be able to accommodate up to 42 patients in a mix of single and semi-private rooms, but will open with capacity for 30 in the first year, said Howell. Patients will have individualized discharge plans that require them to be transitioned to continuing care in their home communities, he added.

He said SMHC officials have already been talking to community leaders about the projects and said feedback has largely been positive.

The behavioral health unit is scheduled to open in the spring or summer of 2020.

The $23 million eldercare project, to be built and owned by Sandy River Corporation, and located on the Sanford Medical Center campus, will be operated by North Country Associates, a Maine company based in Lewiston. The new, 94-bed facility, which must undergo state review to acquire a “certificate of need” will include 30 memory care beds and is scheduled to go online in the fall of 2020.

Founded in 1982 by John Orestis, North Country Associates operates and manages 25 facilities in Maine and one in Harwich, Massachusetts, said  North Country Associates  Chief Operating Officer Mary Jane Richards.  It is the largest provider of  long term and assisted living  in Maine.

The closest locally is Southridge Rehabilitation and Living Center in Biddeford.

“This will be our first center that is started from the ground up,” said Richards in an email on Wednesday. “We look forward to offering jobs to the current employees of the Newton Center. This new center will need many more staff and will likely create 40 or more jobs for that area.”

The new eldercare facility was first announced in September 2017. Sandy River Corporation had engaged with Genesis Health Care Corp. to be the operator, but after several months, that relationship ended.

Southern Maine Health Care currently operates the 50-year old, 74-bed Newton Center nursing home and had operated a 24-bed memory care facility called The Pavilion and a 14-bed residential care facility called Hillcrest Gardens – the latter two facilities have since closed. Residents at Newton Center will transition to the new facility, hospital officials said, and then the Newton Center will be torn down.

“The new Eldercare Center will include more private rooms than any other center of its kind in Maine and bring back memory care services,” said Patsy Aprile, chief operating officer at Southern Maine Health Care. She said the new eldercare center will will be organized into communities depending on the level of care residents need –  each with its own designated dining room, activity and green space.

Sanford Mayor Thomas Cote said he is encouraged by  SMHC’s plans for the Sanford campus.

“The addition of the 24/7 behavioral health unit brings a new life to the facility and offers many good paying jobs for our residents,” said Cote. “The new programs will also relieve the stress on the Emergency Room by reducing needless overcrowding for folks needing specialist mental health services.”

“I am especially excited to learn about the plans for an updated elder care facility, which will retain the memory care program,” Cote continued. “The Newton Center has been a staple in our community for a very long time, but it’s clear the facility is beyond its useful life. I am grateful for the investment SMHC is making to support our seniors and provide them with the services they need without having to leave Sanford.”

As well, SMHC Sanford Medical Center  is undergoing a series of projects to upgrade technology and modernize its appearance. A new MRI machine was installed in December and other enhancements include improved lighting, sidewalk replacements and curb repairs, seal coating in the parking lot, landscaping, and new carpeting. These renovations are the latest in more than $10 million of improvements made to SMHC Sanford Medical Center since Goodall Hospital merged with Southern Maine Medical Center in 2014. Other investments have included expansions and enhancements of outpatient care services, imaging technology, infrastructure and more.

SMHC Sanford Medical Center offers an array of services, from the emergency department to pediatrics, cardiology, orthopedics, a laboratory and rehab. Newer, expanded services include 3D mammography, MRI, sports medicine, walk-in care, and more.

Howell said additional improvements will include upgrading the HVAC system and the roof.

Each project – the eldercare facility and new inpatient behavioral health unit – will be the product of strong partnerships with experienced health care companies and non-profit organizations and are being made possible, in part, by the strength of the recently unified MaineHealth, said Howell.

Howell took the reins as President and CEO at Southern Maine Health Care in May. He was born at Goodall Hospital,  now SMHC Sanford Medical Center, and his family has roots in the Saco area.

“Ninety years ago, Sanford opened the doors of its own community hospital,” Howell said. “Today, we are proud to announce that we will continue that tradition of caring for our community with a series of projects intended to re-invigorate this campus, create new jobs and provide much-needed health services. By working together with our partners at MaineHealth, Maine Behavioral Healthcare and others, we can more efficiently and effectively meet the needs of those we serve.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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