Written By: Bruce A. Percelay | Photography By: Brian Sager

Five years in the making, the new Nantucket Cottage Hospital opens its doors.

Even hospitals get sick and tired. After more than sixty years, Nantucket Cottage Hospital, which was built more as an infirmary than a full-service medical facility, had long since seen its best days. Like many things on Nantucket, there was a great deal of sentimentality toward the old gray structure, but the reality was clear that it was time to deliver a new building. After five years of planning, exhaustive fundraising and feedback from the community, Nantucket now has what is arguably the finest rural hospital in America.

The new facility wasn’t designed simply to “fix” people, but rather to help them heal. Every detail—from the use of color to the lighting to even the sounds within—was carefully contemplated to create a soothing experience for people who are often enduring their most challenging days. Indeed, beyond the doctors inside, the building itself was designed to help people heal.

The process of building a new hospital is about as complex as construction can be. Unlike conventional homes or office buildings, hospitals require an enormous amount of extra wiring for data lines, internal communications systems and alarms. Miles of wire run throughout the hospital’s interior, each color-coded to indicate suites, patient rooms, the emergency department and all other critical computers in the building. Not only is the new hospital LEED Gold v4 certified, but it was built to the rigid hurricane design specifications outlined by Miami Dade County. The hospital’s mechanical systems are built on the roof to protect them from flooding and the walls can also withstand 185 mile per hour winds.

Despite its world-class construction, the new hospital hasn’t lost its island roots. From the moment one steps through the main entrance, the fingerprints of the community that made the facility possible can be seen—and heard— at every turn. Visitors’ attention is drawn down the undulating wooden walls of the lobby to a grand piano, which was a gift from Bruce and Marilou Sanford in memory of their daughter Ashley who passed away from a rare disease. In her waning days, Ashley benefited dearly from music therapy, so her parents honored her life by sharing that gift with everyone who walks through the doors. But this isn’t just any piano. The self-playing Steinway Spirio is programed with hundreds of hours of songs performed with the exact same key strikes and timing as the performers who composed them. The Spirio can be controlled by an iPhone or played manually. So before a patient even sees a caregiver, their stress and anxieties are already being treated with the sound of music.

Equal thought was spent on creating tranquil spaces throughout the new hospital such as the Respite Room, which will look out to a meditation garden. Punctuating the immaculately manicured grounds will be striking sculptures created specifically for the hospital by local artist and renowned philanthropist Gordon Gund. Looking down upon the garden from the second floor, two sets of doors open to spacious porches where patients can lounge and enjoy some Vitamin D.

The emergency department, which expanded in size from 4,400 square feet to 7,340 square feet, inspires a sense of confidence. The central nursing station looks more like a set out of Star Trek than a rural emergency department. With twelve exam rooms, gone are the days of patients waiting on gurneys in the hallway. Whether it be the heavily equipped trauma rooms, the specialty room for OB/GYN procedures, or the behavioral health observation rooms, the emergency department appears fully equipped to handle just about any eventuality.

Most people never realized that maintaining care in the old hospital with only one operating room was inefficient and not up to current standards. For instance, any time a mother was delivering a baby, the single operating room had to be shut down in case she needed an emergency C-section. If someone was injured in an accident and required surgery while a mother was in labor, they might have had to be helicoptered off the island. The new hospital has two operating rooms in the expanded interventional services area, which allows for surgeries to happen simultaneously for the first time in the hospital’s history. Nantucket now has a facility with capabilities that most assumed were present in the old facility—but weren’t.

The interventional services area also offers five private infusion bays for chemotherapy, as well as two rooms for dialysis. In the old facility, infusion rooms were so crowded that there was very little privacy for those undergoing what was often a long and unpleasant procedure. Now these rooms have private spaces with expansive views of the nearby conservation land, creating an experience that is far more conducive to healing than before.

If ever there were a place where telemedicine proved its utility, Nantucket is it. At thirty miles out to sea and often unreachable during storms or rough weather, Nantucket relies on the ability to connect virtually to Massachusetts General Hospital, considered one of the world’s best hospitals, through telemedicine. While the old hospital had telemedicine capabilities, the high-definition cameras and monitors of the new facility enable patients on Nantucket to be screened easily by doctors in Boston who are often at the top of their field in the world. For instance, the new imaging department is now equipped with the same CT scan model used at Mass General, providing a level of imaging detail that allows doctors in Boston to see precisely the nature of an injury or medical condition.

While the maternity ward in the old hospital was more than adequate, the new maternity rooms are remarkably spacious and comfortable, allowing a spouse or friend to easily sleep in the room, pre- and post-delivery. With bright sun shining through windows and cutting-edge monitoring and security capabilities, the birthing process on Nantucket is now as sophisticated as any place you could find on the main- land. But there are still nods to the old facility.

Arguably the most revered part of the old hospital was the brick Wall of Nantucket Natives bearing the names of hundreds of children born on the island. In response to the tremendous outcry from those who worried that the bricks might disappear along with the old hospital, each was taken down and made available as a keepsake. The new hospital will recreate the same wall, but with white porcelain tiles and black script reminiscent of scrimshaw, thus carrying on a cherished island tradition unique to this hospital.

Fundraising for the new hospital has been the most ambitious undertaking ever on the island, with a total campaign goal of $120 million. The hospital component of the campus is nearly complete thanks to more than fifteen hundred gifts representing over five thousand people on the island. The remaining dollars will be allocated to an on-campus housing initiative, which will be located on hospital-owned land behind Holdgates Laundry.

As patients and caregivers continue to settle into the new facility, the old Nantucket Cottage Hospital is being fastidiously disassembled. Old medical equipment has been donated to a number of organizations around the island and around the world. Whatever couldn’t be repurposed on Nantucket is destined to Haiti, Peru, Sierra Leone and other developing countries by way of Build Health International, with which Nantucket Cottage Hospital has partnered. Once the former buildings are leveled, the surrounding gardens and main entrance pavilion will be finished. For those sad to see the old facility go, they can take solace in knowing that the essence of what made the old hospital part of the fabric of the community has been stitched into the very foundation of the new hospital. Now, it’s up to the hospital to take care of the community, and the community to take care of the hospital.

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