Intensive Care: What It Takes to Move a Hospital

Later this month, staffers and patients from Montgomery Hospital will move into their new digs at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. Here's how a hospital move happens.

Moving a one-bedroom apartment is annoying. But moving an entire hospital?

The phrase “logistical nightmare” might come to mind. But at the end of this month—on September 29th—staffers and patients from Montgomery Hospital will move into their new digs at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, a built-from-scratch facility three miles down the road in East Norriton. Einstein will provide a host of novel services for the area—advanced cardiology, robotic surgery, a level 3 NICU—in an effort to better meet the medical needs of Montgomery County residents. But the first hurdle is actually setting up shop, a complicated mass-moving-day that requires the orchestrated efforts of physicians, staff and an ambulance team to get between 40 and 50 patients from one building to the other—with as few hitches as possible.

“We have a minute-by-minute plan,” says Beth Duffy, the newly minted COO of Einstein Montgomery. Said plan goes like this: Two teams, dubbed red and blue, will man sending and receiving squads at each hospital. Bright and early—at 4 a.m.—patients will undergo their daily tests at Montgomery. By 5 a.m., room assignments at Einstein and the moving order will be finalized, based on patients’ conditions and needs. An hour later, Einstein will officially open for business; the move will begin at 7. One by one, patients will be ushered out of their rooms, discharged from Montgomery, loaded into ambulances, driven on a predetermined route, and admitted to Einstein at the other end. Rinse, repeat.

Duffy expects the move to take between four and five hours, barring disasters—but even those have been planned for. Among the worst-case scenarios: weather catastrophes, car accidents, sudden medical emergencies, and even what to do if an ambulance driver wins the lottery and doesn’t show up for work on moving day. (Hey, it could happen.)

Einstein enlisted a consulting company that specializes in hospital moves to help plan for these kinds of contingencies. So far, they’ve done two role-playing drills. On September 7th, they’ll do a mock move with real people, having volunteers play patients for the day.

Easing some of the burden is the fact that not much stuff is moving from Montgomery to Einstein. Duffy says fewer than 100 pieces of major medical equipment will make the trek, joining the 8,000 or so new items Einstein is purchasing. Beyond that, it’s mainly office supplies, patient files (to be painstakingly scanned and added to Einstein’s electronic medical records), and items from staffers’ and physicians’ offices.

The emergency department, helmed by Robert Czincila, who will resume his post at Einstein, will be the last one out. “We have to remain open until the last patient is moved in case someone walks up having a heart attack,” he says. Once the patients are gone, a team will do a final walk-through to ensure that no confidential records, medications or hazardous waste have been left behind. (The health department will pay a visit the next day to take the license back from the facility.)

“There are so many details that even after 28 years in this business, I never would have thought about,” Duffy says. On the bright side, moving a one-bedroom apartment after this will feel like a snap.