HCA Florida Fort-Walton Destin Hospital adds capacity with first phase of $100M expansion

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — The HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital now has space to care for more patients with the addition of 42 hospital beds in the first phase of a $100 million expansion.

The expansion features a four-story, 95,000-square-foot patient tower and 10,000-square-foot renovated cafeteria space complete with a kitchen and dining area.

Members of the Fort Walton Beach, Destin and Walton Area Chambers of Commerce joined hospital staff Tuesday to celebrate the grand opening of the first two tower floors and cafeteria with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

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Zach McCluskey, CEO of HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital, speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday marking the renovation of the hospital's cafe and the completion of the first two floors of a new $100 million patient tower. The 95,000-square-foot wing adds 10 ICU beds, eight cardiovascular ICU beds and 24 surgical care beds, increasing the hospital's capacity from 267 beds to 309.

Zach McCluskey, CEO of HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital, said the hospital began looking at expanding about five years ago to help accommodate a growing number of patients and increased need for services. Construction on the tower began in 2021.

“What this will allow us to do is increase our service area, so increase the amount of patients that can come into the hospital,” McCluskey said. “They’ll have more space that they can get into a bed, and we can continue to grow services now that we have that capacity.”

Capacity increased to 309 beds

The opening of the first two floors increases the hospital’s capacity from 267 to 309 beds. On the first floor, there are eight cardiovascular ICU beds for patients who have undergone procedures like open heart surgery.

The first floor also has an additional 10 ICU beds for people who have been critically injured and need intensive care. The hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Eric Schuck, said the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated a need for more ICU beds.

HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital held a ribbon cutting Tuesday to mark the renovation of the hospital's cafe and the completion of the first two floors of a new $100 million patient tower.

There were times during the height of the pandemic when the facility had 60 to 70 ICU patients with only 29 medical beds to use. While the surge has died down, Schuck said the extra space will be vital in similar situations.

“Us having that additional capacity allows us to expand to take care of more patients for our community,” he said. “Whatever it may be, if we had a mass casualty or a pandemic surge, any situation where we would need to take care of a large number of patients.”

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The 24 surgical care beds on the second floor will provide space for patients to recover after surgery.

Schuck said the postoperative care patients receive has an important impact on their clinical outcome. The new space adds larger rooms, which will allow nurses to move around and see patients with more ease.

This new waiting room a the HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital is part of a new $100 million patient tower that was unveiled to the public during a ribbon cutting held Tuesday at hospital.

“You’ve got to be able to make sure you’re monitoring them regularly, getting them medications quickly,” he said. “And this new space allows us to really improve the actual logistics and flow for our nursing staff and for the physicians.”

The rooms are also stocked with new equipment and technology, and have better lighting, as well as ventilation systems to reduce infection rates. The layout also makes the area easier to clean and more spacious for families visiting loved ones.

“This allows us to triple space and that overall reduces the stress and anxiety for the patient and their family,” Schuck said. “That’s really what we do. At HCA, it’s all about reducing suffering, reducing anxiety for the patient and their family.”

Once the second phase of the project is complete, McCluskey said there will be another 28 surgical beds available for patients on the third floor. The second phase is expected to be complete by May.

HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital held a ribbon cutting Tuesday to mark the renovation of the hospital's cafe, pictured here, and the completion of the first two floors of a new $100 million patient tower. The 95,000-square-foot wing adds 10 ICU beds, eight cardiovascular ICU beds and 24 surgical care beds, increasing the hospital's capacity from 267 beds to 309.

Renovated space for staff

The expansion also increases the number of staff needed at the hospital. The hospital currently employs about 1,200 people. McCluskey said he plans to hire an additional 60 employees. Two more surgeons were also recently added to the team.

As a part of the project, staff received a renovated cafeteria space decked with bright new colors and fabrics. McCluskey said the hospital had been partnering with area food trucks and restaurants for about a year while renovations were being made.

“We show up everyday to make lives better, and now we get a much better space to do that in,” McCluskey said. “We now have a space that more accurately reflects the talents of our team. The colors, the fabrics, everything’s very intentional."

Eric Kidwell, critical care nurse manager with HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital, shows off one of the hospital's new ICU rooms to Mary Florence and Jeanne Rief from the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce during a ribbon cutting Tuesday to unveil an newly renovated cafe and the completion of the first two floors of a new patient tower.

Schuck said staff members have been eagerly awaiting the cafeteria’s completion.

While it is a place to take a lunch break, the cafeteria also serves as a space for them to relax and collect themselves after a long, hard day. The remodel opened up the space, and according to Schuck, made it “dramatically different” from before.

“Our staff has worked so incredibly hard for the last three years, and they do every day,” he said. “To be able to come to a clean space like this where they have a lot of options for food and beverage and just be able to sit and hang out and mingle, this place is kind of mind-blowing for me.”

The project is only a fraction of the growth McCluskey hopes to see at the hospital. In the future, he plans to add more procedural space, including operating rooms and areas to perform various lung and gastrointestinal surgical procedures.

“Our community is growing, our hospital is growing and we needed space for the growth in our community, as well as the demand for our services,” he said. “This space is going to be vital to continuing our mission.”