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Taking Medicine to
Towering New Heights

By Audrey Hanes, Photography by Kayla Broadway

For more than 100 years, St. Bernards Healthcare has been providing Christ-like healing to those in Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas, a need that grows and evolves with each passing year. To meet that need, the hospital recently opened the doors to a state-of-the-art $103 million tower that will serve as the medical center’s surgical and intensive care hub, as well as introduce many other amenities and services to patients and their families.

Mother Johanna Marie Melnyk, the current Prioress of the Olivetan Benedictine Sisters, has worked closely with St. Bernards administrators since becoming chairman of the St. Bernards Healthcare Board of Directors in 2017 and played a large part in making the medical tower a reality.
“We are the owners of St. Bernards and we take that responsibility extremely seriously, and we want to so that we can contribute as much as we can,” said Melnyk. “… We are a Jonesboro-based organization and we really cherish our roots in Jonesboro, but we see so many people coming to us from further afield that we need to keep having conversations about them and their needs and trying to provide for everybody.

“It’s an ongoing process of market research, consultation and finding what the needs of the area are. … (There is a) desire to upgrade and always be up-to-date in what we are offering so that we are cutting edge. All those things roll into a realization that just getting a new machine or just doing one building wasn’t going to do it. We needed that master plan, and that needed to be in stages. … It unfolded at the right time to get to where we are today.”

Melnyk and the Olivetan Benedictine Sisters, along with almost 4,000 St. Bernards employees, are eager to use the new development to enhance their ability to carry out the medical center’s longstanding mission.

“Our mission never changes, but the way we carry out our mission has to keep constantly changing to take into consideration the real needs of the people here,” said Melnyk. “That is the reason why St. Bernards was founded in 1900, to address a really specific need, which was the malaria outbreak that summer. The sisters at that time had no nursing background whatsoever — they were teachers — but they were pressed to do something for the people and felt like that was God’s call for them, so they responded as best they could. I feel that our mission can’t be static. It has to be as open as they were, looking at … the real needs of our people right now and what are they going to be down the line, trying to prepare for the future. This tower really does meet our goals and carry out our mission of meeting the pressing needs of the people and allowing for expansion in the future.

“This is just a tremendous step forward from where we were before. I think patients and their families will experience that.”

The surgical and intensive care services tower is phase three of a four-phase, $137.5 million development that began in 2016 with the opening of St. Bernards Cancer Center, followed by numerous changes at the Heartcare Center that were completed in March 2018 that included expansion of invasive services, the addition of a new electrophysiology lab, the addition of a new hybrid lab and the renovation of the current cardiac catheterization labs.

The 245,000-square-foot tower, which also gave St. Bernards a new “front door,” is the most expensive and visible part of the multi-phase development. The first floor will feature a ground-level atrium with access to education rooms, a community meeting room, a chapel and the 1900 Market, a café and coffee shop that will serve local Shadrachs coffee.

All surgical services — including inpatient procedures, outpatient procedures and corresponding waiting areas — will be in the new tower. The first floor will also house 14 surgical suites, with the ability to expand to up to 20 suites in the future. Other important additions include a hybrid surgical suite, which is equipped with advanced medical imaging devices enabling minimally invasive surgery, as well as a special procedure room used for interventional radiology procedures. The first floor also features additional support programs, including a pharmacy and a GI Lab.

The tower will host a 46-bed critical care unit, which can be expanded to 60 beds in the future, and the fourth level of the structure will allow St. Bernards to grow and expand as needed in the future.

Another important change is that the emergency department can now be accessed from Church Street and will have two separate entrances: one for ambulances and one for walk-in patients. There will be seven bays for private ambulance service, separate parking for emergency vehicles and a covered entrance for patients. Each level of the new tower directly connects to the current medical center, which will allow for easy access for patients and their families.

Heading up the entire project was Chris Barber, the president and CEO of St. Bernards Healthcare, who has been a part of the leadership team at St. Bernards for more than 27 years. Barber is responsible for oversight of all St. Bernards entities, the largest of which is St. Bernards Medical Center, including the four-phase development.

“The community has trusted St. Bernards as the leader in providing compassionate, comprehensive and advanced healthcare throughout the region, which includes state-of-the-art technology in a high-touch service environment,” said Barber. “It is because of this community trust (that) we have been fortunate to experience tremendous growth, thus requiring us to think strategically about our service offerings and facilities to accommodate and meet the needs of our growing population. The team here at St. Bernards lives the mission every day to ‘provide Christ-like healing to the community through education, treatment and health services.’”

Barber credits Senior Vice President of Administrative Services Kevin Hodges with leading the effort to turn an idea into an impressive reality that will allow St. Bernards to better serve more patients.

“A project of this scale certainly required a true team effort across the organization, but we also needed a seasoned captain to chart the course and skillfully navigate the journey,” said Barber. “Kevin Hodges was that individual. He spent countless hours making a thousand decisions regarding the tower, and his leadership made this project a success.”

Hodges was responsible for every detail of the impressive new structure and says that the entire process took tremendous teamwork across the organization from everyone from staff members and physicians to nurses, leadership and board members.

“I could tell you anything you need to know about this building — the fact that it is 245,000 square feet, the fact that there are 570 tons of reinforcing steel in it, the fact that we now have 14 state-of-the-art surgical suites and 46 brand new intensive care units — but the main thing I would like to make clear (is that) this tower helps St. Bernards meet a need in this community,” said Hodges. “Patients need the life-saving care offered here, and we are here to help.

“This tower is impressive, and as a St. Bernards team member, I am incredibly proud. But I’m also proud of the work that will be done in this building over the next 120 years. Lives will be saved, patients will be healed and families will be comforted. I’m proud to be a small part of that service, and I’m proud to work for a facility that keeps Christ-like healing at the heart of everything we do.”

Melnyk says that the St. Bernards team will benefit from the new tower as much as the patients, making their jobs easier and their time used more efficiently.

“We want to make their job as easy and as smooth as it can be,” said Melnyk. “The new facility, with the new equipment and the whole new design of it, is going to help our staff tremendously in those areas and make their work flow more smoothly.

“I believe everyone who works here works here not only because it’s a job but because they genuinely want to help people. If you’re not able to help everyone, it’s frustrating; it frustrates your personal sense of mission if you’re not able to do that, and we never want to get to that point. … That’s why we want to keep looking at what the demands of the market are and what our people need so that we can stay ahead of that and keep expanding as needed. I think there will be a real sense that our employees can continue to do the job that they love and want to do.”

The chairman of the St. Bernards Healthcare Board of Directors is proud of her personal contribution to the new chapel, which is an integral part of the medical tower. It will be located on the main walkway from the new tower to the original medical center, right next to the emergency department, making it centrally located and easily accessible for patients and their families.

“The new chapel will be at the heart of the medical center,” said Melnyk. “It will be much more accessible for all of our visitors, as well as our staff, and I think that’s a really important move for us. … I think that meets a real need for people, as well, the spiritual component of care here. I appreciate the opportunity to work on that; it was a joy for me to contribute to that personally.”

The fourth and final phase of the development will include renovations to the existing medical center, such as enhancing patient rooms, public areas and the kitchen and dining areas.

“It will be really important for patient care and again for the efficiency of our staff in enabling them to do their jobs,” said Melnyk of the fourth phase. “We will be able to take those spaces that are now freed up in the older part of the medical center and renovate them in a way that allows us to meet the current needs. … It will make the medical center as a whole function at its best. Everything will have been updated and everything has been planned comprehensively, rather than doing one piece or two.”

By the time the fourth phase is completed, every inch of St. Bernards Medical Center will be new or updated, an investment St. Bernards is proud to make in Jonesboro and in the downtown area.

“During the strategic planning phase for the master plan, there was a conscious decision to stay and continue to invest in downtown,” said Barber. “One sign of a healthy community is a vibrant downtown, and St. Bernards is proud to continue investing in Downtown Jonesboro.”

For more information about St. Bernards Medical Center and its expansion project, located at 225 E. Jackson Ave., visit stbernards.info or call (870) 207-7300.