It’s no accident that St. Elizabeth Medical Center chose to build its new emergency room and medical office complex on a high-visibility tract immediately east of I-75/71, south of 12th Street in Covington.

Northern Kentucky’s largest hospital liked the idea of having its name — its “brand” — out front around the clock for the 150,000 vehicles that pass the site daily. Now it’s clear that the facility, scheduled to open in June 2009, will be eye-catching for more than its proximity to the stretch of interstate routinely referred to as “Death Hill.”

Borrowing a concept that’s already been used frequently throughout Europe, the one-story emergency room — some 18,000 square feet — will be built with a so-called “green roof”: in effect, a roof garden of soil and plants that will provide a variety of benefits to the medical center and the surrounding environment, according to Doug Chambers, vice president of facilities.

On one hand, the green roof provides an extra layer of insulation that should help trim energy costs inside the building and protect the rubber-membrane roof from damaging ultraviolet rays. The roof and two other “rain gardens” on the 10-acre site also will help the hospital and the local sanitation district control rainwater runoff on the site.

“These will hold the natural rainwater on the property instead of shedding everything to a drain,” Chambers said. “We’re trying to be ecologically friendly to the site.”

For most of the year, the construction project in Covington (an investment of close to $40 million) and the proposed merger with St. Luke Hospitals have overshadowed much of the other news about St. Elizabeth.

Besides building and merging, the staff points to some important recognition about patient care at “Saint E” this year: a “Top 50” ranking in the U.S. for clinical performance from HealthGrades, and a “Top 100” hospitals ranking in the U.S. from Thomson Healthcare.