Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - Lessons learned: STHS expansion being completed with COVID in mind

Work on the new 160,000-square-foot patient tower going up at St. Tammany Health System’s main Covington campus, photographed in June 2020, is still on schedule for a late 2020 opening. (Photos by Tim San Fillippo / STHS)

By Mike Scott,

When you get down to it, there’s never really a good time to experience a pandemic. But if you’re a hospital and you’ve got to experience one anyway, it doesn’t hurt for it to arrive as you’re building the four-story centerpiece of a $100 million, three-year expansion.

That’s the case with St. Tammany Health System and its new 160,000-square-foot patient tower, which has been going up over the past several months at the main hospital campus in Covington. When completed, it will add 70 private patient rooms to the hospital – but that’s not all.

“It’s also going to incorporate many of the lessons we learned from COVID-19,” said Sharon Toups, the chief operating officer at STHS.

For example, the new expansion will see STHS doubling-down on its use of UV light to kill germs, which it has been doing in patient areas since March with four newly acquired germ-zapping robots. While those robots, provided by St. Tammany Hospital Foundation, will continue to work their magic hospital-wide, the bathroom of every new patient room will also be equipped its own built-in UV light.

To address the challenges of communicating with patients who must be kept in isolation – such as, for example, COVID-19 patients – every room will also be equipped with an iPad so patients can interface with their healthcare providers and with families without the risk of potential exposure.

That goes hand-in-hand with the hospital’s new room design, which is already in use in some parts of the facility.

“With the glass doors in the new rooms, the nurses and the physicians are able to visualize and communicate with the patients without wasting PPE by going into the room unnecessarily,” Toups said. “I think our room design has proven to be extremely successful dealing with COVID, and all of the beds in the new tower will adhere to that new design.”

Similarly, Toups said, a bulk of the new wing’s beds will be easily convertible for critical care use in the event of a patient surge.

Despite the myriad construction complications caused by COVID-19 – from staffing issues to change orders to difficulty obtaining some materials from overseas markets – contractor Milton J. Womack Construction has still managed to keep things on track for a Dec. 1 opening.

“They never skipped a beat, really,” said Toups, who also praised Womack’s numerous subcontractors. “Had it been another contractor, it could have slowed down the project. It’s really been a blessing that the project has stayed on target and on track for the same time frame given the circumstances.” 


This story was originally published in Heart to Heart, the official quarterly magazine of St. Tammany Health System. Find the latest issue inside your newspaper or at St. Tammany Health System's Covington campus. You can also view a digital edition at

See more photos of the new STHS expansion below.

This bank of elevators, just inside the main entrance to the new wing, will greet visitors.

A patient room in the STHS expansion, photographed in June 2020.

The new first-floor administrative lobby will link up with the existing STHS building at the far end of this photo.

The glassed-in administration reception area.

A view from the new patient wing’s fourth floor – which will remain unfinished for now, earmarked for expansion – looking down into what will be the new parking area, which has been paved since this photo was taken in June.

Cabinets line a wall in the new administration area.