FLORENCE — The Shoals bids farewell today to the 99-year-old Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital during an historical moving effort that concludes with the region welcoming North Alabama Medical Center.

Hospital officials say they are prepared for the 2.2-mile trek in a journey that involves moving patients from the Marengo Street location to the new facility on Veterans Drive.

"We're on track," Chief Operating Officer Mike Howard said. "Everything's set up. The move alone has been being planned for over a year."

Howard said a company called Armstrong, which specializes in hospital moves, is moving so-called "hot-truck" items, such as IV poles, while patients are transferred to the new hospital in ambulances.

"They are going to move coincidentally with the patients," he said. "So as we empty a unit, they'll come in behind us. They'll have the unit at the new room ready to go."

Melissa Watkins, communications director for the hospitals, said all items that are being transferred are tagged so movers will know where they go in the new hospital.

Watkins said they expect to complete the move today.

ECM's emergency room will accept patients today until 6 a.m., she said. After that time,  emergency room patients will go to North Alabama Medical Center while those already at ECM will continue to be treated at the current location.

Watkins said both emergency rooms are staffed, so if a patient arrives at the ECM emergency room with a serious case, the patient would be treated there.

"It will be all hands on deck," she said.

Howard said they are using 20 ambulances in today's move.

"We are not taking away from local ambulance service," he said. "These are all coming from out of town."

Ambulances will line up at three ingress and three egress routes, Howard said. Employees involved in the move are assigned to teams A, B or C.

Team A includes critical care units and will be the top area of concentration.

Team B primarily focuses on mothers and babies first, and then moves on to other patients.

Team C focuses on patients that are more ambulatory.

A command center is set up at both hospitals.

"We'll check patients out here and check them in as they arrive there," Howard said. "We will make sure we account for each patient.

"All the equipment that is moving is already stickered with where it's going. If they take an IV pole from the third floor, they'll know exactly which room it's going to on the fourth floor," he said.

No streets will shut down during the move, Howard said. "There will not be enough ambulance traffic to have to shut down a road."

Howard said he understands there is a great deal of curiosity about the move and new hospital, but he asks the public to stay away if they don't have a reason for going to the hospital today.

"Please don't show up to watch," he said. "There's really nothing to see. There will be ambulances coming and going, loading and unloading. For respect of privacy of patients and not to get in the way, we're asking everyone to stay away."

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski


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