Hundreds of visitors Saturday wandered through and around the halls, rooms, public areas, cafeteria, coffee shop and other spaces of the new McMurry West Tower that marks the central entrance for the Wyoming Medical Center.

"This represents our commitment (to Casper) for the next 100 years on East Second Street," WMC Board Chairman Chris Muirhead told scores of hospital staff, business leaders and citizens.

Muirhead joined the hospital's board of directors in late 1995 for a somewhat selfish reason, he said.

One of his jobs at his firm was recruiting young accountants to Casper, he said. Besides touting the educational institutions, the museums, the outdoors and other amenities, Muirhead knew young professionals insisted on good health care facilities for themselves and their families.

The West Tower benefits central Wyoming, and all who live here, Muirhead said. "When Casper does well, we all do well."

Wyoming Department of Health Director Tom Forslund echoed that theme.

"This is a high cost project, but it is a good investment," said Forslund, former Casper city manager.

"Those communities that invest in their health generally are those communities that also thrive economically," he said. "To understand you have to have a solid health care system in place to support the economy is critical."

The $43.7 million West Tower dominates the hospital’s campus in the 1200 block of East Second Street.

The 100,000-square-foot addition features the new main entrance, an expanded kitchen and dining area, a healing garden for visitors to enjoy some quiet, an expanded chapel, the entire third floor for the Ruth R. Ellbogen Family, Mother and Baby Center, and the entire fourth floor for the Jerry Behrens MD Orthopedic, Spine and General Surgery Center.

Kim Coryell is a certified nursing assistant who will be working on the fourth floor. She and Kathy Taylor were touring the Family, Mother and Baby Center and showing a new piece of equipment common to both floors.

Call buttons for nurses have been around for decades, Coryell said. But both floors will have large hand-held pads patients can use to not only call for a nurse, but make requests for water, medications and other specific items, she said.

The hospital will begin moving equipment to the new tower during the first week of October. The kitchen and cafeteria facilities will be transferred later that month. Surgery and obstetrics patients will be transferring from their current locations to the West Tower's third and fourth floors next month.