Multi-year expansion of medical facility:


The growing population of Bannock County, Idaho is aging like the rest of America; the county’s people rely on Pocatello’s county-owned, not-for-profit Portneuf Medical Center (PMC) for much of its healthcare. PMC is a Level III Trauma Center, meaning it can provide prompt assessment, resuscitation, emergency operations and stabilization; arrange for possible transfer to a facility that can provide definitive trauma care; and has general surgeons on staff.

With approximately 1,300 employees (including 188 physicians), PMC is the county’s second-largest employer. Its $50 million annual payroll multiplies to pump $250 million through the area’s economy each year.

PMC was formed in October 2002 when two competing Pocatello hospitals consolidated: Bannock Regional Medical Center and Pocatello Regional Medical Center. Those facilities are located on either side of Interstate 15, and PMC simply calls them the West Campus and the East Campus. Together, they make up a 248-bed acute care facility and 92-bed long term/transitional care facility.

Following the 2002 consolidation, the county intended to combine all services offered at the two separate campuses into a single, expanded medical center on the current East Campus and to then sell the West Campus to help pay for the East’s improvements.

“Most of Portneuf’s existing facilities are too old, too small or improperly designed to meet the healthcare needs of area residents and businesses,” said Pat Hermanson, PMC president and chief executive officer (CEO). “We do a good job of working with the facilities we have now, and they have served our needs well for more than 50 years. But as we look to the not-so-distant future, we know we are going to require more space to care for the needs of our region.”

PMC services 210,000 outpatient visits, admits about 10,000 patients and delivers about 1,800 babies annually. In 2005, its emergency department attended to more than 40,000 visits. Its staff performed more than 5,000 surgical procedures, 7,400 inpatient and outpatient cancer procedures, 92,000 radiology procedures and 760,000 laboratory tests. Four hundred medical, nursing and other health professionals train each year at PMC.

The East Campus consolidation/expansion master plan will be completed in staggered phases due to existing campus and site restrictions. The total cost will exceed $200 million and will have multiple new facilities and parking structures. 

The construction manager for the multiphase project is Pocatello’s Brennan Construction Co., which works closely with PMC’s director of Facility Construction, J.T. “John” Watts. While all of the work goes out for competitive bid, neither Brennan Co. nor Watts are sorry that most of the major trades have multiple contractors that have won sizable portions of the work.

Lead contractor

The lead electrical contractor is Warbonnet Electric Inc. Another electrical contractor on-site is Wheeler Electric Inc., Idaho Falls, Idaho. Warbonnet’s founder, president and major stockholder is Norman Hayball, a Shoshone-Bannock Indian. Warbonnet’s offices are in Fort Hall, Idaho, on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, which takes its name from a trading post based there during the days of the Oregon Trail. About 4,500 members of the tribe, including Hayball, live on the Reservation, and currently Warbonnet employs six members of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe. Over the years, Hayball and his leadership team have brought other young native people into the industry as well.

Hayball and a partner founded the company in 1976. He’s had a second partner since then, and his third and current partner since 1988 is Kevin Howell, vice president. “Norman works in the field with the customers,” said Howell, “because he is likable, reliable and charming. I stay in the office and keep things moving here.” Howell has served on the local National Electrical Contractors Association chapter’s apprenticeship and negotiating committees.

In its 31 years, Warbonnet Electric has been as small as five employees and as large as 260, all depending on the availability of projects at the time. Currently, Hayball and Howell try to maintain a staff of about 50, and the company’s annual income ranges between $4 and $12 million. Its biggest single project was $18 million, working at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in Idaho Falls.

An important player in Warbonnet’s relationship with the Portneuf Medical Center is Jim Marchetti, an electrical foreman who has been with Warbonnet for eight years. “I’ve done small stuff at the hospital for years because I knew that the day was coming when it would need a major expansion,” Marchetti said. Referring to Warbonnet’s ongoing electrical maintenance contract with PMC, he said, “We have at least one electrician working full-time at the hospital campuses just keeping up with its ongoing needs.”

Project details

The PMC expansion plan has begun with a variety of smaller projects, which have generated roughly 1,500 man-hours for Warbonnet so far, including a SurgiCenter, outside lighting for an urgent care facility and three labs, which are specialized radiological suites where cardiac catheterizations are performed. Warbonnet also performed the electrical work on the demolition of three existing medical office buildings and a wing of the East Campus hospital.

In addition, Warbonnet completed a large exterior duct bank project in winter 2005 so that the building utilities could be relocated from the north to the south side. Then Warbonnet completed actual relocation of the utilities in winter 2006. That will allow an additional expansion on the north side, which will come during a future phase.

Marchetti and his team also recently completed the electrical work on a new temporary main entrance at the East Campus. “Actually, that will be the first of several new main entrances in the coming years,” he said.

As new portions of the East Campus are completed, new projects can begin. And that will require the main public entrance to be relocated several times before the entire project is completed. That first new main entrance required the relocation of multiple alarm panels for myriad systems, including security, fire and oxygen. “That was quite a process keeping all of the systems running as we installed those new panels,” Marchetti said.

“In fact, there is currently a lot of low-voltage cabling in hospital work, when you consider the security, telecommunications, video and all of the other low-voltage systems,” Marchetti said.

In some low-voltage systems, such as video and some security systems, Warbonnet performs the full installations. On others, such as fire and nurse call systems, it will install the cabling and components, but then subcontract the systems’ programming. For some computer and telephone cabling systems, it will typically only provide the raceways and contract the remainder to a telecommunications firm.

Other current PMC master plan projects on which Warbonnet is working include two of the larger buildings at the front end of the master plan. The first is a $7-million, two-story parking garage that will accommodate approximately 450 cars (to be completed fall 2007), and the second is a four-story, 80,000-square-foot medical office building, called the Cardio Vascular Multiple Office Building or CV-MOB (to be ready for occupancy in spring 2008). Technically, Florida-based DASCO Cos., a medical office development firm, owns CV-MOB. However, the building will be connected to the main hospital and PMC will occupy approximately half of it.

Long before the master plan is complete, the existing electrical/mechanical room will become incapable of supporting all of the new facilities. Therefore, the next building to break ground later this year will be a dedicated stand-alone building to house the new East Campus electrical/mechanicals.

Major East Campus projects that have yet to go to bid include another new medical office building that will break ground in 2008 and the new seven-story acute care facility tower, which will be the centerpiece of the East Campus expansion. It will have 139 beds in 450,000 gross square feet and will house a new heart and vascular center, cardiac care and other offices and lab and rehabilitation facilities.

Both Portneuf Medical Center and Pocatello are growing. Something different will be needed in the coming decades in order to effectively serve community’s needs. For 31 years, Warbonnet Electric has also grown to being a stable presence in that community. All three will continue to partner with one another, shepherding the PMC expansion to its completion in the coming years.  

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan. area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.