DALLAS (AP) — About 600 patients were moved Thursday into a new $1.3 billion hospital in Dallas that replaces an aging facility memorialized in U.S. history as the place John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead after his assassination.
Some 1,700 staff members and volunteers participated in the move across the street from the old Parkland Memorial Hospital into its new 17-story embodiment, which features about $80 million worth of digital technology and a lobby with a display commemorating the 35th president.
"Our public health system just got a lot better with the opening of this new hospital," said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, the county's top administrator.
He called the new public hospital a "quantum leap forward" when it comes to providing care for the area's poorest residents but stressed more primary care facilities also are needed. The hospital handles more than 1 million patients annually.
Voters approved a bond in 2008 committing taxpayers to cover 60 percent of Parkland's construction cost, The Dallas Morning News has reported, while $350 million came from the hospital's reserve funds and $150 million from private donations. Construction took five years and ultimately will result in more than 850 beds being provided for patients.
The old hospital opened in 1954 at a cost of $10 million and was noted at the time for having a polio ward and advancements like a pneumatic tube system. But its darkest day came on Nov. 22, 1963, when Kennedy's body was rushed the approximately three miles from Dealey Plaza, where Lee Harvey Oswald had waited, to Parkland.
Kennedy was taken to Trauma Room 1, which no longer exists but has been marked for years with a plaque noting its location. The contents of that room are stored at a National Archives facility in Kansas. A bust of Kennedy was moved from the old Parkland into the lobby of the new building.
Jenkins said it's important the new display appropriately commemorates Kennedy. "We're going to be very mindful of that history," he said.
Along with the complicated task of moving hundreds of patients, 11,000 employees and virtually an entire hospital operation into a new building, administrators are also working to address federal and state sanctions in recent years that have undermined Parkland's reputation.
The state health department fined Parkland $1 million in 2012 for an emergency room death the previous year. Federal authorities threatened to cut off $400 million in annual funding after determining that Parkland jeopardized another patient, The Dallas Morning News has reported. And the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas in 2012 substantiated claims that the hospital billed the government for unnecessary physical rehab procedures.
Parkland has adopted hundreds of safety reforms to avoid further federal scrutiny.
The hospital has satisfied many of the issues that threatened its federal funding, but it remains under continued scrutiny by the federal government. It is two years into a five-year corporate integrity agreement that has focused on billing problems and patient-safety concerns, The Dallas Morning News reports.
Executives were not available for comment Thursday, but Paul Leslie, the hospital's general counsel, told the Morning News this month that, "Parkland is making progress completing the requirements" of the agreement.
"None of us are trying to suggest that everything's perfect," he said. "There's always room for improvement."
David Wright, deputy regional administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said Parkland has established a foundation for quality of care that will transfer to its new campus.
"We have seen improvement and progression in terms of where they were back in 2011 and where they are today," Wright said.