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In the wake of a devastating tornado, Georgia's Sumter Regional maintains service to its community with an interim hospital made from modular steel units.

After a tornado shuttered Sumter Regional Hospital last year, leaders at the Americus, GA, facility quickly realized their community couldn't wait for them to rebuild a full hospital from scratch.

"Not having inpatient services locally, not having surgical services, not having OB was quite a challenge, and we realized we needed to do something in order to sustain medical services," says David Seagraves, Sumter's president and CEO.

So after moving outpatient services into what Seagraves describes as "mobile home-type buildings," hospital leaders came up with a slightly more permanent solution: Build a modular hospital.

Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Sumter's senior leadership chose to create an interim facility 300 yards from the original hospital using prefabricated units imported from Italy. The federal and state emergency agencies covered 75% and 12.5% of the costs, respectively; Sumter paid for the remaining 12.5%.

The only thing left to do was to create a medical facility from 360 10-by-20-foot structures made of metal and other materials. Construction began in July 2007, five months after the tornado hit. The interim hospital opened this past April.

"We made rather significant modifications in order for it to meet our needs and turn it into a hospital," Seagraves says. "All it is is a framework—it is not a hospital as it comes to you."

To squeeze the services offered in the original 280,000-square-foot hospital into the 74,000-square-foot interim facility, all nonclinical departments were housed in other locations. The modular hospital contains an ER, an OR, patient rooms, some small waiting areas, a chapel, a gift shop, and one meeting room.

Except for a sleep lab, a cath lab, and behavioral health inpatient services, the temporary facility offers all of the services that the former Sumter did. The original hospital had 143 licensed beds; the interim hospital has 76.

"Folks have been very impressed with it when they have the opportunity to come in and see what it looks like on the inside," Seagraves says. "It looks like a very traditional hospital building on the inside."

FEMA and hospital leaders originally hoped that the modular units could be reused by another hospital in need, but Seagraves says that is unlikely because of the special modifications made in the steel units to fit Sumter's requirements. "It remains to be seen, but given the nature of the interior finish process, I think it would be very unlikely that it could be easily disassembled and relocated anywhere," he says.

Sumter is working with an architectural firm to rebuild a permanent hospital on the same site as the demolished facility. Seagraves says it is expected to open in spring 2011.

—Marianne Aiello

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