New Southcoast ICU opens ahead of schedule as part of COVID response

St. Luke’s adds 16 beds, doubles size of previous unit, which will remain in operation

Southcoast Health’s $14 million, state of the art intensive care unit at St. Luke’s was slated to open soon – just not quite this soon.

But the not-for-profit health system opted to accelerate the project’s completion as part of its preparation for and response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s potential impact in the region, Southcoast officials said this week during a “virtual ribbon cutting” featuring physically distanced administrative and clinical leaders. The timeline was moved up by as much as a month in anticipation of a projected surge, they said.

At 16,000 square feet, the new ICU, built on the fourth floor of St. Luke’s, more than doubles the size of the previous unit, which itself will remain in operation to handle increased patient volume related to the coronavirus. At a later date to be determined, the space will be repurposed for medical/surgical patients.

“The fact that this investment in our community could be up and running at such a crucial time is a remarkable achievement on the part of our staff and a testament to the trades and small businesses who stayed on the job to see the project through ahead of schedule,” said Keith Hovan, President and CEO of Southcoast Health. “Amid so much uncertainty right now, these frontline health care heroes and amazing essential workers are a source of confidence who inspire enduring gratitude and hope.”

Hovan also thanked the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the local legislative delegation, and the City of New Bedford for working closely with Southcoast throughout the process.

The new ICU will add 16 beds in 440-square-foot rooms to the hospital’s capacity. Other features include an advanced video system for monitoring and safe patient-nurse communication, transitional screening windows for privacy, and images of the region created by local artists to promote a calming, healing environment.

“This new ICU is important for our trauma and critical care patients and staff,” said Maria Tassoni, RN, Nurse Manager. “It’s more modern, more spacious, and more accessible. We’re thankful to everyone who has worked on this project. It’s been a group effort, and all involved have been tremendous.”

Officials said the new ICU also aligns with Southcoast Health’s process to establish St. Luke’s as a Level II Trauma Center, meaning patients along the 195 corridor can receive critical care without necessarily needing transport to Providence or Boston during the moments that matter most.

“The Level II Trauma Center required a state of the art medical ICU with enhanced surgical capability, and that’s what we have here now to provide our patients with the best possible care,” said Dr. Michael Barretti, Medical Director for the new ICU. “The technology and comfort, along with the negative pressure rooms for airborne precautions and upgrades in safety and monitoring features, make this an incredible opportunity and honor for me and our entire staff.”