HURRICANE — As the shovels first struck dirt for the new Hurricane Campus of St. George Regional Hospital, the feeling of major change for a small town was in the air.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday morning behind the current Intermountain Hurricane Valley Clinic at 75 N. 2260 West. This marked the first phase of the new campus that will provide a 24/7 emergency department and medical imaging services for the community of around 17,000 people.
But while the 28-acre campus will be, at first, just another annex of St. George Regional Hospital, it is an open secret that the long-term plan is for the first dirt turned Wednesday to someday lie beneath a full-fledged Hurricane hospital of its own.
“We are building a hospital in phases so that we don’t have to increase the cost of health care all at once by building a much larger facility out of the gate,” Mitch Cloward, St. George Regional Hospital administrator told St. George News after the ceremony.
“As we look into the future with the population growth and the available land, we see a day when there will be inpatient beds here, birthing services, surgery,” he said. “We’ll watch the demographics and the population growth carefully to make sure we do that at the right time in an expeditious manner, when the time’s right.”
A crowd of more than 100 gathered under a fabric tent, taking in some refreshments, breakfast appetizers and the tenor and baritone sounds of the Centennial Park Men’s Choir. The customary gold shovels were used by the dignitaries, but there was an extra Hurricane touch as dirt was also dug by a backhoe tractor driven by Hurricane Mayor John Bramall.
“There’s a little bit of rock underneath there, so I had to wiggle a little bit to dig in,” Bramall said. “It made everybody nervous, but that’s okay. It’s just all part of the excitement.”
Construction is expected to be completed by late 2022. By then, Hurricane residents with a medical emergency will no longer need to take a 20-minute ride by car or ambulance to St. George.
The new campus will expand on the Hurricane Valley InstaCare and Clinic that opened in January 2008. Dennis Mehr, the practice’s director and current Ivins City Council member who Cloward said was instrumental in bringing the clinic to Hurricane, took in the ceremony from the back of the tent – perhaps unknown to attendees before he was called out by Cloward.
Mehr said he was thinking back to standing on the then empty site 14 years ago, and instead of seeing sand with tumbleweed seeing potential.
“We opened the new clinic in January 2008. Everyone was so excited. Each department in the building had room to grow and a renewed desire to provide the very best care for our patients,” Mehr said. “It is rewarding to see the progress over the last 14 years. It is nice to have new buildings and the latest equipment, but at the end of the day, it is the people that make it special.”
Acting as a satellite of the level II trauma center in St. George, the Intermountain Healthcare facility will also initially include a pharmacy, lab services, family medicine and rehabilitation services. The current 26,200 square-foot building will be augmented by an additional 21,500 square-foot building as well as a larger ambulance entry and additional parking.
Emergency room workers at St. George Regional Hospital will be working to help set up and establish the new emergency services in Hurricane. But Dr. Patrick Carroll, medical director of the St. George Regional Hospital, said he wanted to make it clear that it will not mean a degradation of services in St. George.
“This is not a zero-sum game. There are some people who have suggested or have been a little bit afraid that we’re shifting resources from one place to another. That’s not going to be the case,” Carroll told St. George News. “We’re simply elevating the care for everyone. So getting care close to home for the residents of the Hurricane Valley is going to be beneficial for the eastern side of Washington county and is going to be beneficial for St. George.”
For Carroll, there was also a personal connection. While he grew up in Kanab, the city on his mother’s birth certificate reads “Hurricane.” At the time, Hurricane was a town of less than 1,500 people. Since the 1970s, the population has ballooned more than 1,400%.
“It’s not a small town any longer, but that means it can also support something like this,” Carroll said.
The moment proved emotional for Bramall, who was seemingly stifling tears as he told those gathered that his heart was filled “with fire” after hearing the men’s chorus sing about America and remembering his mother saved after a heart attack as well as his own brushes with injuries or worse in an auto accident.
“If any person dies, it affects families, friends, neighbors and the community. So the more we can do to save everybody, the more that we meet my goal in that every single person counts; every single person’s important,” Bramall told St. George News after the ceremony.
As a part of that spirit of community, the ceremony included a tribute to first responders where they were asked to stand and be recognized, with their police, fire and response vehicles parked around the tent.
The ceremony proved to be about the sense of not only a community but what was once a small community reaching new heights.
But Hurricane City Council member Nanette Billings said after the ceremony that even if its growth and having a 24/7 medical facility goes beyond being a small town, Hurricane doesn’t need to lose the small town in its heart.
“We can keep the small-town charm by uniting,” Billings said. “Honestly, we need to have the emergency facilities for our emergency responders to be able to come here and help people. It’s actually just going to benefit everyone in our small towns.”
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