Perhaps as early as autumn, Ohio County Healthcare is expected to break ground on a $16 million surgical department that will double the hospital’s operating room space and provide enough square footage for future robotic surgeries.

Construction on the new surgical unit is expected to begin in spring and should take about 18 months to complete.

To pave the way for that project, the OCH board approved a $500,000 project to move the hospital’s four-bed ICU unit into a suite of high-acuity negative-pressure rooms.

“It will give us the capability to better care for our COVID-19 patients in a safe environment,” said Blaine Pieper, CEO.

Also, the existing ICU unit is in a part of the hospital that needs to be vacated during construction of the new, expanded surgical department.

The project to relocate the ICU is out on bids and is seeking final state approval.

Pieper expects construction on the new high-acuity suite to start within 30 days and take up to three months to complete. By the end of the year, the new negative-pressure rooms should be in use.

In the past few months, OCH bought more parcels adjacent to its property. One — the sale of which is still pending — will provide additional parking space for employees and the surgical department expansion.

A home at 311 McMurtry St. will give OCH more office space, and it offers direct access to the hospital’s campus from another property purchased earlier this year at 1132 Clay St.

Homes on two of the parcels will give the health system space to relocate employee offices that must move during the construction phase. Those buildings also can be used for education and other purposes.

The $16 million cost of the new surgical department includes $4 million in new equipment.

Financing will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pieper said. The health system hopes to lock in a 30-year fixed rate, which has not been set yet.

OCH officials have received a letter of conditions from the USDA. They are replying to that letter now and foresee no issues.

Because of COVID-19, Pieper said architects are revisiting the new surgical unit’s design to make sure it still fits the hospital’s needs. The worldwide pandemic has changed some things, such as physical distancing requirements.

“We think (COVID-19) is going to be part of the health care landscape for some time to come,” said CeCe Robinson, director of community relations.

The former surgical unit will become a space for support services, provider practices, and expanded lab and X-ray services.

The new surgical department will be connected via a corridor on the back of the hospital.

During construction, the current surgical unit will not be affected and will operate as normal.

The new suite will provide an additional operating room and procedure room.

Operating rooms will be large enough to accommodate robotic surgery equipment. The current rooms are not large enough, Pieper said.

Thirty years ago, OCH performed between 50 and 75 surgeries per month, he said.

Currently, the health system performs between 300 and 350 a month. Most of that growth has been in the past decade, Pieper said.

“We’ve known for probably close to 10 years that we are going to have to replace our OR,” he said. “We’ve been working on it the last few years.”

In preparation for building the new surgical suite, OCH hired Dr. John Jeffries, a general surgeon, in October 2019.

In recent years, OCH has been aggressive about recruiting new physicians. Pieper credits a system of “great providers who work well with each other” for much of the health system’s growth.

“Our community recognizes that quality,” he said.

Also, the OCH board and Ohio County Fiscal Court have been committed to keeping the health system strong so it can meet the growing needs of the community.

“We make it our mission to provide outstanding care to our patients,” Robinson said.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835,

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