Increased Visits Prompt Plans for BID Growth

May 31, 2024
• The radiology wing of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Needham plans to upgrade its equipment over the next few months, prompting the hospital to seek a permit to install a temporary trailer to serve patients during construction.

The mobile imaging trailer would be placed behind the hospital on Lincoln Street and connect to the main building from the driveway via a tent structure, according to the permit application. During the construction inside, the trailer is expected to accommodate patients for about six months.

The improvements come as the hospital has seen a significant growth in visits over the past few years. Prior to the closure of Norwood Hospital in 2020, BID-N would see about 14,000 annual emergency room visits, but visits have since increased to 28,000, BID-N President John Fogarty said. Norwood Hospital received about 40,000 annual visits.

Demand for additional services led them to seek the hospital’s expansion, and radiology emerged as a key area for improvement — many people seen in the ER require some kind of imaging, whether it be an X-ray or CAT scan, Fogarty said.

The radiology department’s spectroscopy equipment — a diagnostic tool — is due for replacement, Fogarty said. A camera in the department “reached the end of its functional life” and will be replaced with a more advanced one, BID-N’s Chief Medical Officer Greg McSweeney told the Planning Board May 14. Moving their operations to a trailer proved to be the most efficient and least disruptive option, McSweeney said.

As a member of Beth Israel Lahey Health, the Needham hospital aims to provide 70% of care within community settings, Fogarty said, and radiology and other hospital services have grown in town as a result. The hospital added a second CT scanner last year.

“I think providing access to those services closer to home has been a real driver,” Fogarty said.

By the time their fiscal year wraps up at the end of September, Fogarty estimates they’ll clock more than 26,000 visits. That’s a considerable uptick since Fogarty joined the hospital 13 years ago, when the hospital welcomed about 14,000 patients annually, he said.

The Norwood closure led Needham to add four treatment bays in the ER and increase the scope of its behavioral health psychiatry services, the demand for which has risen since the pandemic. A 15-bed nursing unit also opened in January 2023.

“I think one of the things that I’m most gratified about and proud of our staff is that, particularly in the wake of the Norwood closure, we really responded effectively to that crisis,” Fogarty said.

When the decision for the trailer is reached, it will include some changes to the hospital’s landscaping requirements. The developer plans to add plantings around the area and permanently remove a tree, which must be uprooted to move the tractor out, said Justin Mosca, a project engineer with VHB. In an email to the Planning Board, Parks and Forestry Superintendent Ed Olsen complained of the “diseased and dying landscaping” around the hospital, which he said they have failed to adequately address for several years. Mosca acknowledged the current conditions behind the hospital, which he called “overgrown and a little unsightly.”

But aside from Olsen’s comments, no abutters or neighbors spoke on the plans during the public hearing May 14. During any construction — whether it be the new cancer center opened in 2014 or The Trotman Family Outpatient Clinical Center in 2019 — the hospital aims to engage locals in a dialogue, Fogarty said, including outside the formal Planning Board processes.

“We really want to see ourselves as a resource to the community, not just a big monolithic building that you only go into when you’re sick,” Fogarty said. “We want the hospital to be seen as a partner.”

The Planning Board will likely finalize their decision on the special permit at its meeting on Tuesday. Should the board grant the special permit, the project would likely be completed in the winter, with additional landscaping work the following spring, Mosca said.

“As far as the full project is concerned, the landscaping will go in in the fall. We may have to come back in the spring to do some of the clean-up if it’s a December or January end,” Mosca said May 14. “Full project completion would probably be the spring.”

At the close of the public hearing, Chair Adam Block praised the hospital’s work.

“We’re grateful to have this service and amenity in our town,” Block said May 14.

Even as the project progresses, the hospital has ideas on it hopes to pursue next. As the hospital moves through its capital planning process for 2025, Fogarty said they’ll look to focus more on digestive health and expand their facilities for endoscopy and colonoscopy care.

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