Palomar Hospital in Midst of $50-Million Expansion

Times Staff Writer

Despite the rapid growth in North County in the past 35 years, Palomar Hospital has remained a small, though busy, suburban hospital.

But now that is about to change, as the hospital has embarked on a major expansion project aimed at serving its burgeoning community and bringing modern technological advances closer to home.

Construction workers are about one year away from completing a $50-million expansion on the 267-bed medical center whose emergency room serves about 3,000 people a month.

A seven-floor tower, which will add about 150,000 square feet of patient care and operating rooms to Palomar, should make the Escondido medical center one of the finest in the county, hospital administrators and staff said.


Creating ‘Regional Excellence’

“We’re trying to create a center of regional excellence here,” said Dr. John Lilley, Palomar’s chief of staff.

Lilley and other Palomar administrators had worried that the hospital had become too antiquated and was not providing the services it should to North County residents.

Growth in the North County population and advances in medical technology convinced Palomar officials that the hospital, which was built in 1950, needed revamping.


Construction for the project began in January, 1986.

“We will soon be able to offer the services of a typical medical center,” Lilley said.

Most important of those services will be open heart surgery, a procedure primarily practiced at hospitals in San Diego, Lilley said.

“Up until now, people who needed open heart surgery had to go elsewhere, and you can imagine what a headache that was,” Lilley said.


Temporary Facilities Set Up

Although the future operating rooms to be used for open heart surgery won’t be ready until next year, Dr. John Detwiller said temporary facilities are being set up so the procedure can be done as early as June.

Detwiller is the chief of Palomar’s Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, an additional service the hospital has added during the expansion. The lab, which is currently operating in temporary quarters, is a form of preventative heart care performed at the hospital since October.

“In the past we treated (heart disease) conservatively by prescribing bed rest and preventing complications, but with state of the art (cardiac catheterization) equipment we can abort the heart attack,” Detwiller said.


“We’ve done over 200 cardiac caths at Palomar . . . We can now infuse a drug agent that dissolves the clot (in the heart) and with a mechanical tool open up the artery and break up the clot. This is an intervention tool.”

Like open heart surgery, the lab will also be in Palomar’s new tower.

State of the Art Equipment

Palomar’s emergency room also will be moved to the new tower and will be equipped with state of the art equipment.


“The current operating room is antiquated,” Lilley said.

In addition to the tower, hospital officials plan a three-story underground parking garage.

The south wing of the hospital also will be refurbished.

Lilley said Palomar officials haven’t determined how much additional staffing will be needed to service the additional hospital space.


Robert Harenski, executive vice president of Palomar, said hospital officials should be able to pay for the $50-million expansion through bonds and patient fees.

Harenski said it was too early to tell if hospital fees at Palomar would go up because of the expansion.