FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (WKRG) — A new four-story tower at the HCA Fort Walton-Destin Hospital will open 42 new beds for patients on Sept. 9, 2022. Hospital staff and local partners on the project gathered in the new cafeteria portion for multiple ribbon cuttings Tuesday.

At a price tag of $100 Million, the addition features 95,000 square feet. In total the new beds in ICU, Surgical and Cardiovascular specialties will bring the hospital’s total bed county from 267 to 309. Hospital CEO Zach McCluskey said.

“This first part of this tower will care for patients that have had open heart surgery as well as cardiac procedures, patients that have been critically injured that need intense health care as well as patients that are recovering from surgery. That’s the mission of the first two floors of the hospital.”

The new cafeteria is not attached to the tower but is a long-awaited project in the renovations. Chief Medical Officer Eric Schuck said having a open space to gather has been a big missing work culture factor since COVID-19 started in 2020.

“I used to work here clinically for almost seven or eight years, almost eight years running the ER and we used to come into this cafeteria and it was, it was a place pre-COVID to really connect and kind of decompress, talk to your, talk to your colleagues, talk to nursing,” said Schuck. “To be able to come here and sit and kind of work together, pray together, whatever it may be… a place to get something to eat and be able to hang out is going to be this kind of a beautiful environment.”

The hospital is only opening the first 2 stories on Sept. 9. The new tower will bring in approximately 60 new medical staff and more specialized treatment for Okaloosa County residents. The third floor is slated to open in May 2023 and the fourth floor will open shortly after that.

“So I think it’s evident that our community is growing, our hospital is growing and we needed to keep pace with the growth in our community, as well as the demand for our services,” said McCluskey. “So this space is going to be vital to continuing our mission of the care and improvement of human life for our community.”

The new rooms are more spacious in the tower, Schuck said they wanted an open layout to better take care of the patients.

“The research shows, more time that patients have a family with them, you know, the quicker they are to go home and the better their outcome,” said Schuck. “So this allows us to have a more comfortable space and that really overall reduces stress and anxiety for the patient and their family. And for us, that’s really what we do right at HCA, it’s all about reducing suffering, reducing anxiety for the patient and for their families.”

COVID-19 and the new tower:

Staff designed the brand new tower to be easily cleaned to reduce infections and virus transmission overall. Schuck said the new-era air filtration system makes that possible.

“Ventilation systems of today are far ahead of where they were in the 70s and 80s when this building was built, the actual air circulation times are increased so we’re able to move air through quicker and get viruses and infections out of the room and out of the air space,” said Schuck. “So God forbid we have another surge, whatever it may be, if we had a mass casualty, or if we had a pandemic surge or any situation where we would need to take care of a large number of patients, and even as we just grow week over week, as we bring more patients in, we can take care of them in a beautiful space and not have them in the ER.”

What’s next?

McCluskey said once the tower is complete, the HCA Fort Walton-Destin Hospital is going to focus on adding more specialty care experts and procedures.

“So a lot of our future plans involve more procedural space, so more operating rooms, more areas to do lung procedures and procedures that go in your Gastrointestinal tract really a lot of medicine is shifting to more catheter-based procedures,” said McCluskey. “So we’re going to make sure we’re going to where the Industry is going.”