A new $14 million intensive care unit at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford has been completed, more than doubling the hospital's ICU capacity.

To celebrate, Southcoast Health this week hosted a "virtual ribbon-cutting" ceremony where officials stood six feet from each other wearing face masks.

Construction was completed a month early to accommodate any surge in very sick patients related to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials at the not-for-profit health system said.

The 16,000 square-foot ICU on the hospital's fourth floor adds 16 beds in 440-square-foot rooms. The rooms contain an advanced video system for monitoring and nurse-patient 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 Nurse Manager Maria Tassoni. "It's more modern, more spacious, and more accessible."

She and Keith Hovan, CEO and president of Southcoast Health, thanked everyone who worked on the project.

"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," Hovan said.

While the state's largest carpenter's union staged a work stoppage earlier this month, saying work sites were not safe during the pandemic, the construction workers made an exception for some facilities key to the coronavirus fight, and the St. Luke's ICU made that list.

The new ICU will serve a purpose beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Southcoast Health is now working to establish St. Luke's as a Level II Trauma Center. When that status is established, patients along the 195 corridor will be able to receive critical care without being transported to Providence or Boston.

Such Level II Trauma Center status requires a state-of-the-art medical ICU with enhanced surgical capability, said Dr. Michael Barretti, medical director for the new ICU. Barretti touted the facility's features, including its "negative pressure rooms for airborne precautions and upgrades in safety and monitoring features."

Southcoast Health has a broad network of practitioners and facilities, including three hospitals — St. Luke's in New Bedford, Charlton Hospital in Fall River, and Tobey Hospital in Wareham.

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