Union-built St. Elizabeth’s Hospital will change life in the Metro-East

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THE HEALTH CENTER, at far right, makes up the right, eastward side of the complex and connects to the hospital on all five levels. - Labor Tribune photo

By CARL GREEN
Illinois Correspondent

O’Fallon, IL  – Life will make a change on Nov. 4 for many Metro-East residents when St. Elizabeth’s Hospital opens its $300 million, union-built hospital and adjacent health center.

Under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), trades union members were involved in every step of a construction job that Project Manager Dave Sheedy says couldn’t have run any smoother.

In conjunction with the contractors, Alberici Constructors and Holland Construction Services, the entire process was planned out in advance, he said.

The process during actual construction was really very smooth. There really weren’t any delays other than some weather,” said Sheedy, of the design firm Kahler Slater, in an interview with the Labor-Tribune. “Being able to pre-plan the entire project before anybody hit the construction site was really a benefit.”

500 UNION WORKERS 

Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council, said the project was a great opportunity for the Metro-East labor force that showed how well union workers could handle a big project.

“It was a good deal for us,” Stewart said. “Every trade got a bite of the apple. We never had any serious jurisdictional issues that didn’t get resolved.”

The project typically had 500 or more union workers a day during the construction period, he said. “It’s something that southwestern Illinois is going to be really proud of.”

The hospital and health center will replace the beloved but aging hospital in downtown Belleville at a 120-acre site on the south side of O’Fallon immediately north of Interstate 64 in the heart of the Metro-East.

Everything in the hospital is state-of-the-art, and it has features that may be new to some of its patients and their families, such as a special lounge at the back with a canopy exit for patients being taken home by loved ones, so they won’t have to parade through the public areas in the front. Another is a rooftop dining area adjacent to the cafeteria on the fifth floor that gives a panoramic view of the neighborhood.

A stained-glass work depicting the Miracle of the Roses was restored for the chapel area. – Labor Tribune photo

ON TIME AND ON BUDGET 

Sheedy said the PLA system allowed the project to be completed on time and on budget.

“Being able to plan ahead to have an adequate workforce was a huge benefit,” he said.

“It was great to have that early agreement and support between everybody that was working on the project.

“We had weekly meetings with the business agents, so that was great, and there were a couple of business agents assigned to the project that the contractor could talk to on a regular basis and who actually attended many of our project meetings.”

The designers, contractors and union workers emphasized using pre-fabrication to streamline the project and avoid peaks and valleys in labor, Sheedy said, including plumbers, electricians, glaziers and more.

“All those trades looked for pre-fabrication opportunities to even out the level of construction labor at any one time,” he said. “We were able to have a construction crew that was more consistent in its size throughout the duration of the project. I think this project really pushed the envelope on that.”

Exterior pre-cast concrete with brick inlay was brought to the site, allowing the building to be enclosed quickly. Windows, too, were pre-glazed.

A storage shed on-site turned out to be just the place to prepare bathroom installations ahead of time, attaching fixtures, electrical panels, tile, light sockets and even towel racks.

“Those came over as full units and then were lifted by crane and slid into the project and placed into their locations,” Sheedy said. “The only thing that was done later was the flooring.

“When you walked into the shed, there were 20 to 25 toilet rooms, just one after the other like soldiers, so every trade could work methodically through each one,” he said. “It was great for quality, too. All the potential errors are taken out of the process.”

Another phase of construction was to prepare for seismic disturbance. “This particular place is very active seismically and it was also the site of a coal mine, 90 feet below, so there were some very significant challenges to overcome,” Sheedy said. The mine was filled in with a cement-grout solution. Lights, pipes and fixtures all have guide-wire restraints to keep them in place.

WHAT IT INCLUDES 

The hospital is five stories high and faces southward, with the 10 operating rooms extending out the back to the mechanical plant. The emergency department, imaging and cardio diagnostics are on the first floor in close proximity. Surgery, intensive care, prep/recovery and other related units are just above on the second floor.

The third floor has obstetrics, with patient rooms for women and infants, a special care nursery, labor and delivery and a C-section area. Most of the general patient rooms are on the fourth floor, and the fifth floor focuses on rehab therapy and the cafeteria. Parking is in front.

“From a medical planning point of view, we went out of our way to make it the most efficient place to work for medical and clinical staff and physicians – with the idea of making it a better work experience and a better patient-family experience, and more safe,” said Jennifer Schlimgen, a Kahler-Slater architect. “Ultimately, reducing the cost of care is the goal.”

The adjacent office building, known as the Health Center, is on the east side of the hospital, and the buildings connect on all five levels. While the hospital is finished in a natural tan shade, the Health Center has a dark gray exterior.

Sheedy said the building was designed for operations that did not have to be in the actual hospital, such as the pharmacy, business and foundation offices, blood lab, physical therapy, specialist offices and wound care center. That reduced construction costs, he said.

Changes in the medical field – such as more use of outpatient care – allow the hospital to need less space and far fewer patient rooms – 144 instead of more than 300, Sheedy noted. The old hospital has more than one million square feet, while the new one has 365,000 square feet.

“The same care to the same population is being delivered with a third of the actual real estate needed to deliver that care,” he said. “It’s a huge cost saver.”

A large stained-glass depiction of St. Elizabeth was restored and mounted by the chapel on the fifth floor. Statues of St. Francis, St. Elizabeth and Jesus are prominently displayed. The San Damiano cross, altar and pews are coming from the current chapel.

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The miracle of St. Elizabeth

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the namesake of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, was an unassuming and caring young woman who can be seen as a great example even in today’s world – or perhaps especially in today’s world.

The story goes that Elizabeth was married at age 14 into a wealthy family at a time when the rich lived among many poor and hungry people. Elizabeth noticed that her family threw away a great amount of leftover food, even when the hungry were just outside. She began gathering up food in her cloak and taking it to the poor people.

When her in-laws noticed what she was doing, they admonished her to cease and desist, but she quietly continued to feed the poor despite their threats. Finally, her husband accosted her as she prepared to take more food out, and he ordered her to open her cloak.

When she did, all that could be found in it was roses. It is now called the Miracle of the Roses, and pictures of roses are prominent throughout the new hospital.

Elizabeth continued feeding the poor throughout her short life – she is believed to have lived only 29 years – and she is also credited with building hospitals.

The life-size, stained-glass picture on the fifth floor of the new hospital shows her walking among the poor with the roses in her cloak. It is more than 100 years old, in a detailed and colorful style called Munich Pictorial. It was donated to the now-defunct St. Elizabeth’s Church in East St. Louis and then went to the former Meredith Home in Belleville. It has been restored for the new hospital.

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