Johnson Memorial Health Completes Expansion

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Five years ago, the leadership team at Johnson Memorial Health (JMH) hired a consultancy to study their campus and take a deep dive into the population growth in Johnson County. The company found that the JMH emergency department was not large enough to keep up with the growing county. Therefore, JMH leaders chose to undertake a $47 million expansion project for the campus.

Construction commenced just over two years ago. The first part of the project included the west side of campus, which houses orthopedic physicians, physical therapy and interventional pain management facilities. The main part of the expansion is the $34 million Emergency Department and outpatient services building on the east end of campus. 

“It’s really exciting,” says Dr. David Dunkle, president of JMH, adding that the new Emergency Department was slated for opening just after the first of the year, but the opening was pushed back due to construction delays. 

As it turns out, the change in timeline was fortuitous – when the coronavirus began to spread through the U.S. in March, the hospital leaders were able to quickly convert the expanded wing into a COVID-19 unit.

“By putting all our resources into making it a COVID-19 unit, that gave us the opportunity to treat more than 20 COVID patients at one time if needed,” Dunkle says.

Thankfully, the hospital never reached that number. In fact, the most COVID-positive patients the staff treated at once was seven. But in a time of such uncertainty, the staff liked feeling prepared.

“Better to be safe than sorry,” Dunkle says. 

In May and June, as the coronavirus numbers in Johnson County began to decline, JMH leaders returned to their original plans and prepared to open the new Emergency Department. Dunkle credits state-level leadership for responding to the pandemic quickly and appropriately.

“We saw COVID coming and hospitals did a great job of increasing the number of ICU beds and ventilators available,” Dunkle says. 

Now, JMH has created a COVID unit that includes six isolation rooms.

The expansion added more than 50,000 square feet of space. The Emergency Department consists of 17,400 square feet, and the outpatient services area, which includes a Laboratory, a Medical Imaging facility and a Breast Care Center, is 33,000 square feet. If the staff needs to conduct a medical research in their lab, they may need cell and tissue samples like Hepatocytes.

The Emergency Department grew from 15 to 26 rooms. In addition, the hospital now has overhead lifts in the trauma rooms, making it easier to move patients who can’t move on their own. The decontamination area was also expanded.

“You always worry about chemical spills and that type of thing, so we went from being able to only decontaminate one person at a time to now having four decontamination spaces,” Dunkle says. 

On July 1, JMH started an agreement with Boone County Emergency Medicine (BCEM), a group of board-certified, emergency-room physicians that also staffs Witham Health Services in Lebanon and Major Health Partners in Shelbyville. JMH is part of the Suburban Health Organization, of which both Witham and Major are a part. When Dunkle spoke to the CEOs of both organizations about their relationship with Boone County, they spoke highly of BCEM.

The founder of BCEM, Dr. Tom Heniff, will be the director of the JMH Emergency Department for the first year.

“For me, it was a decision based on providing the best care for patients in a time-efficient manner,” Dunkle says. “Because what do people complain about the most when they go to the ER? The wait. I look at the emergency department as the front door to my organization. For a lot of people, that’s the first opportunity they have to interact with JMH and I want that interaction to be as good as possible.”

According to Dunkle, community response to the expansion has been fantastic.

“The building is absolutely beautiful, and the public really appreciates the ease of registration and the way things are laid out,” he says. “I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback.”

Johnson Memorial Health is located at 1125 West Jefferson Street in Franklin. For more information, call 317-736-3300, and visit

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