MERCED -- With a police officer stationed at every stoplight, motorists on G Street on Sunday saw a river of ambulances trundling from one end of town to the other.
Those ambulances, each with a patient aboard, made more than 120 trips from the only hospital Merced has known for the past few years to Mercy Medical Center's new facility on North G Street. It opened at 6 a.m. Sunday. From 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 125 patients were moved.
Marisela Bettancourt of Merced was one of them. On Saturday, she shared a room with another patient at the old hospital on 13th Street and was looking forward to being moved to the new hospital.
"I never thought I would experience going to a new hospital," she said. "I'm excited to be part of it."
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Mercy's new seven-story, $260 million hospital, with private rooms and state-of-the-art technology, opened on time Sunday. Just as the old hospital closed its emergency room doors at 6 a.m., the new hospital saw its first patients come in.
'Firsts' in ER, pediatrics
Richard Howard of Atwater was the first patient to come to Mercy's new emergency room Sunday morning. The 78-year-old and his wife came after his doctor told him he needed to be seen by a physician.
"I didn't think I would be first," Howard said, lying on a bed in a room in the emergency department.
"We needed a new hospital," he added. "There is no comparison between this one and the old one."
There were a lot of firsts at the new hospital Sunday. The first baby born, Samuel, was born to Fatima Canela at 8:53 a.m.
Jill and Larry Williams' new baby, Adam, also was a first Sunday. He was the first birth by Caesarean-section.
While Jill Williams cuddled her new son, Dr. Len Perkinson, the doctor who delivered Adam, hustled along the hallway of the second-floor labor and delivery area.
Perkinson said he was ready for the next delivery.
"This is fun," he said with a big grin.
As patients came through the front doors of the new hospital, Mercy staff greeted each person. One of those greeters normally wears a suit and tie instead of an official greeter T-shirt.
David Dunham, president of Mercy, looked like the rest of his staff Sunday, wearing a burgundy T-shirt and a big smile.
"We're so excited to be here," he said. "I told everyone this morning as the sun came up that this is the dawning of a new day of health care in Merced. We are happy to be officially open and ready for business."