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Lawrence + Memorial Hospital marks resumption of work on emergency department expansion

New London — COVID-19 hit Lawrence + Memorial Hospital’s emergency department with a double-whammy last year.

While placing unprecedented demands on the department, the disease also slowed progress on its physical expansion, a construction project considered key to L+M’s relationship with the community and, indeed, the hospital’s future.

On Wednesday, L+M officials marked the resumption of the $84.5 million undertaking, which includes a major upgrade of the hospital’s electrical power system. At the same time, the hospital was treating seven COVID-19 patients, a relatively low number but indicative of a sustained uptick in coronavirus cases over the past month. The previous evening, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had designated New London County an area of "high" transmission of the disease, recommending residents wear masks when indoors in public places.

With the emergency department addition’s steel skeleton nearly complete and highly visible along Faire Harbour Place, officials gathered outside the hospital’s Montauk Avenue entrance to launch the start of a “topping out” rite, scrawling their signatures on a 10-foot length of beam that will be installed atop the building’s frame later this month.

Hospital employees were being encouraged to add their signatures to the beam, which was moved to the hospital’s lobby.

Patrick Green, L+M’s president and chief executive officer, said the beam represented a milestone in the hospital’s history. Construction on the addition began in January 2020, he said, with most of the work initially taking place underground, including the installation of a 40,000-gallon oil tank.

Work resumed in early 2021.

“It was disheartening to see this project slow down over the past year, but for good reason,” said Denise Fiore, L+M’s chief operating officer. “Despite the pandemic, we were able to move ahead with critical aspects of the plan that put the health and safety of everyone involved first.”

Construction crews from North Stonington-based A/Z Corp. put down almost 19 miles of conduit, pulled 95 miles of electrical wire, poured 300 truckloads of concrete and installed more than 2,000 pieces of steel, Fiore said.

With a $57 million price tag, the electrical power upgrade represents the lion's share of the project’s cost. It includes two new generators, which will be installed above the emergency room, giving the building’s exterior the appearance of a three-story structure. Importantly, the new capacity will protect the entire hospital against weather-related outages and ensure L+M has the reserves to power expansions in current services as well as fuel technological advances that have yet to be contemplated, officials said.

The expansion will provide a dedicated emergency department entrance, new space for ambulances and an expanded waiting room. It will result in a department with 57 treatment rooms, including 46 private rooms. Eight beds will be reserved for behavioral health patients.

Speaking before the beam-signing, Dr. Craig Mittleman, L+M’s regional director of emergency medical services, said he thought of the beam as a metaphor for the “unbreakable spirit” of the Emergency Department’s staff, which has battled the pandemic, connecting with the community day in and day out.

“That’s what a community hospital is all about,” he said. “This beam will be here for many decades to come, as will Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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