HOMEGROWN: Dr. Thomas Eckert talks about what a new hospital will mean to the community. Eckert was born in the downtown hospital where his mother was a nurse. After graduating from the IU School of Medicine and completing his residency in St. Louis, Eckert returned to Madison to practice internal medicine. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
HOMEGROWN: Dr. Thomas Eckert talks about what a new hospital will mean to the community. Eckert was born in the downtown hospital where his mother was a nurse. After graduating from the IU School of Medicine and completing his residency in St. Louis, Eckert returned to Madison to practice internal medicine. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Many doctors, nurses and other staff at King's Daughters' Health describe the closing of the downtown hospital and opening of the new hilltop hospital with one word - bittersweet.

Take Dr. Thomas Eckert, for example.

Eckert's ties to King's Daughters' Hospital began years before he made his decision to go to medical school. He was born in the downtown hospital, and his mother worked as a nurse with the hospital for nearly 40 years.

He grew up in a house that is now part of the downtown hospital campus. The house, located near the emergency room entrance, allowed him to hear or see whenever an ambulance brought a new patient to the hospital. He'd usually watch the emergency room happenings from his front yard - until medical personnel caught on to his view.

He first began working at the hospital as an orderly in high school.

"My association just kept going," he said. "I guess it was inevitable I end up here."

Eckert earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Indiana University in Bloomington. After medical school, he completed his residency at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., before returning to Madison to pursue private practice in 1985.

His experiences in St. Louis allowed him to see that he didn't want to practice in a large metropolitan area.

"I soon found out I wasn't a big-city person," Eckert said.

Instead, he returned to his hometown where he first found his calling to the medical field.

"I knew I'd be taking care of people I know," he said.

Eckert eventually joined the hospital staff in internal medicine in 1997, moving from a hilltop building to the downtown hospital campus where he's been ever since.

With all of the memories of the downtown hospital, the change will be much like leaving an old home for a new one, he said.

"This building has served us well," Eckert said, yet hospital services have outgrown the building. "We're at the point we need to move on."

Eckert believes the hospital will be well-received by the community because of the expanded services that will be offered. The new heart catheterization lab will allow stints and other procedures to be done at King's Daughters' Heath instead of transferring to another hospital. Emergency services also expanded to 20 rooms instead of 10 in the downtown hospital.

A back hallway will also allow staff to make transfers from one location to another without the need to take patients into the public hallways and elevators. Private rooms will also allow patients more space and a more tranquil healing environment.

"It's going to be a lot more comfortable," Eckert said.

The new hospital also features several "nursing pods" instead of a nurse's station. Each floor features six pods, with nurses working at each pod in charge of six rooms.

"A patient will have quicker access to the nurses," Eckert said of the layout.

Instead of traveling the length of the floor to check on patients, nurses will be located in the center of the six rooms, offering nurses a shorter response time when patients call.

With the options to stay up-to-date with technological advances, Eckert believes King's Daughters' Health will be able to compete with larger health systems for new medical professionals, specialists and group practices.

Like Eckert, many medical professionals used to return to the local area after receiving their training, he said. That isn't the case anymore.

"What we're seeing today, that isn't happening," he said.

Instead, King's Daughters' Health competes with top hospitals throughout the country for medical personnel.

"We have always been blessed with a great medical staff," Eckert said, but medical professionals tend to accept positions with hospitals that feature a variety of services and state-of-the-art technology.

The new hospital will feature new emerging healthcare technology - Mobile Heartbeat - used in only three other hospitals throughout the United States.

"It's clearly going to attract more physicians," he said of the facilities.

The property on State Road 62 also has enough space to expand, unlike the cramped downtown campus. New cancer center plans are already in development, and additional buildings could be added in the future should specialists decide to relocate to the King's Daughters' Health campus.