CASTRO VALLEY -- After three years of construction, the new bow tie-shaped Eden Medical Center with its distinctive bright blue windows and 125-foot-tall white spire opens its doors in December.

The hospital is the first new one in southern Alameda County in decades -- most were built in the 1950s and '60s -- and will continue to offer the area's only trauma center. It will include private patient rooms, an up-to-date cafeteria, short-term stay rooms, electronic charts, new equipment -- and fast staff elevators that are programmed to not stop until they arrive at the desired floor.

Sutter Health, which purchased Eden Medical Center from the Eden Township District in 1998, is footing the bill for the new $320 million hospital being built by DPR Construction. "This building was achieved with no public funding or tax," Clark said. Donors helped pay for some of the new equipment.

The hospital on Lake Chabot Road was rebuilt in response to California's seismic safety law, which requires all state hospitals to meet new building requirements by Jan. 1.

"The earthquake mandate is a huge issue for hospitals in California," said Jan Emerson-Shea, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association, "but it is also an opportunity for more thoughtful design that takes in the overall healing environment for patients."

New patient rooms

When patients move into the new Eden Medical Center in December, they will encounter a calmer, quieter hospital than the current one. All the patient rooms are private, with natural lighting and views of gardens.

"It's private, it's peaceful, it's a more healing environment," Dr. Sidney Wanetick, Eden Medical Center vice president for medical affairs, said of the single rooms. "Doctors won't have to worry about talking to a patient in private."

The shift to private patient rooms in hospitals has several advantages.

"The most important is infection control," Emerson-Shea said.

The old Eden hospital has 155 beds, but some are in two-bed and four-bed wards. Many of those beds remain empty to control the spread of contagious diseases. "Plus, in a multi-bed room, you can't mix genders," Clark said. The result is that on the average, Eden can only use about 60 percent of the beds in the old hospital at the same time.

Each of the 130 patient rooms in the new hospital will have a private bath and a sleeper-sofa or recliner so that a family member can stay with the patient. Another advantage of the private rooms is "you don't have to listen to the TV of the person next to you," Wanetick said.

In another nod to patient comfort, the hospital was designed to cut down on noise. There will be no overhead paging except during emergencies, and access to patient areas will be restricted. "The No. 1 complaint in any hospital is the noise," Clark said.

The hospital includes 34 of what Eden is calling universal care beds for those recovering from outpatient surgery or who have been given medication in the emergency room and need to be watched. The stay would be less than 24 hours.

Each bed is in a separate room, providing more privacy than is available now, and the unit also frees up space in the emergency room and regular patient rooms. The universal care idea is so new that Sutter had to work with the state to come up with regulations on which patients are transferred there.

Getting ready

All the equipment in the hospital is new, from the freezers in the cafeteria to the positron emission tomography/computed tomography scanners that provide 3-D images used in detecting cancer. Everyone at the hospital -- staff members, physicians, volunteers and others who perform ancillary work, such as dialysis -- is being taught how to use the new equipment. The sessions have already started and will continue through November. "We are training 2,300 people," Clark said. "That's a lot of training."

The move of patients, set for Dec. 1, has been scripted down to the minute. "Our goal is to complete the move in eight hours. We will rehearse the move several times with mock patients," Clark said.

Sutter, a private nonprofit health organization, has hospitals throughout California, including Alta Bates hospital in Berkeley.

Usable equipment from the old hospital will be sent to other Sutter hospitals and clinics or donated to schools, Clark said. The old hospital, which opened in 1954, will then be dismantled starting in December, and 99 percent of the materials will be recycled.

"It would have been cool to have an explosion, but we can't do that because the old hospital is only about 30 yards from the new building," Clark said.

In addition to moving into a new building, Eden is also switching from paper to electronic files. "The day we open, we are converting to electronic files," she said.

"Once we get used to the electronic records, there's just no comparison," Wanetick said.

"One of the biggest challenges to doctors when they come on a floor now is 'Where's the chart?' The charts are never there" because someone else is using them, he said. "With electronic files, physicians will have instant access."

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.

UPDATE ON Area hospitals
San Leandro Hospital: Eden Township Hospital District is in talks with Sutter Health over transfer of title to the hospital after the district lost a lawsuit blocking the transfer.
St. Rose Hospital: The board of the Hayward hospital, which has a debt of about $75 million, has signed a letter of intent with Alecto Healthcare Services to acquire the facility.
Kaiser Permanente: A hospital is being built in San Leandro and is scheduled to be completed in 2014. Kaiser will then close its Hayward hospital, though it will keep medical offices open.