Salem Hospital adds 150 beds

Despite the pandemic, rising prices, and an era in which large construction project cost overruns are more common than not, Salem Health was able to complete a 150-bed, five-floor tower expansion and modernization project, and a variety of other upgrades to different parts of the facility, on time and on budget. The hospital plans to begin moving patients into the new facility by July 1.

“We heavily utilized Turner Construction, but we also had 75 different sub-contractors who are local to our community,” said Sara Horn, vice president and chief nursing officer for Salem Health Hospitals and Clinics.

The 203,000 square-foot tower expansion adds an east wing to Salem Hospital Building A, exceeds the state and federal seismic requirements for the parking garage, and also includes a redesign of the emergency department entrance.

The $245 million project began its planning phase in 2017 and broke ground on the new tower in 2020. Originally $235 million, Salem Health added $10 million through a 30-year bond so they could include a fifth floor to the expansion. All of this was accomplished during some of the region’s worst recent natural disasters including the Santiam wildfires, the Valentine’s Day weekend ice storm in 2021, and two years of record-breaking summer heat.

“We’re currently licensed for 494 beds,” said “So when we move into this expansion, we’ll be licensed for 644.”

Horn said they are all private patient rooms sized and equipped for intensive care unit (ICU) capacity, although they don’t intend to use them this way unless needed.

Hannah Bauer, facilities manager for Salem Health, demonstrates the ICU capabilities of the new rooms at the main hospital. (Charles Glenn/Keizertimes)

This expansion is part of a long-term plan to meet the needs of Marion and Polk counties, as their populations grow and change. Salem Health serves one of the largest areas of any single hospital network in the nation.

“You may or may not be familiar, but we are the busiest emergency department between Canada and San Diego,” said Horn. “There was a recent article by [a medical trade magazine] that had us as one of the top-25 busiest ED’s in the nation. So we might be perceived as a small, rural hospital but we really aren’t – we have a very large ED facility that sees over 100,000 patients a year.”

The first part of the project completed was the emergency room redesign, which was finished in April. She said they had received complaints for years about how difficult it was to find the emergency department entrance from the street. Horn said the “red ribbon” design that wraps around the outside of the building will help people find the entrance, and once there, they will see that the entrance itself has been simplified with a big red wall and a single door.

“We used to have a separate entrance for staff and patients, and it was just confusing,” said Hannah Bauer, a facilities manager for Salem Health.

Horn said the project was due in part to a pre-pandemic study about the changing demographics in the region.

“We’re all getting older, not just certain individuals in the community,” said Horn. “We actually did some work prior to the pandemic with the support of our board of trustees, and looked at some census and projection data both from Portland State University and the Marion and Polk county community health assessment, to determine the needs of our campus and the needs of our community and patients.”

She said the assessment revealed that between 2020 and 2025, Marion and Polk counties will experience an 18 percent increase in its age 65-plus population. The assessment further determined that in the next 20 years, the local population is projected to increase by 30 percent, with the 60-80 year-old population growing by more than 50 percent.

Horn said people’s medical needs usually triple after age 65.

“So as people get older, they need care – and they need it more frequently and more often than those of a younger age,” said Horn.

She said that according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Salem Health has 1.6 beds per 1,000 people, which she said is fairly low, comparatively.

“If it’s not the lowest, it’s the second lowest [in the nation],” she said.