During my 11-plus years here at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, we have taken on some of the most ambitious construction projects imaginable. We built a new women’s and children’s hospital, an entirely new surgical pavilion and even renovated every patient room in our inpatient tower.
But last month we began what may be our most challenging construction project. On May 21, we started a project to upgrade and renovate our emergency department on the NHRMC main campus, which will double the number of patient care areas when completed.
Hospital construction is daunting under any circumstances, as contractors must work around the reality that hospitals never close and patients are there to rest, recover and heal. Building new construction is one thing, but renovating an existing department while the clinical staff there continues to care for patients is among the trickier projects in the construction arena.
To do this in the Emergency Department (ED), perhaps the busiest area of a typical hospital, may be our most challenging renovation project yet. Our ED at NHRMC will treat 88,000 patients this year, or 240 a day – 10 every hour of every day.
That’s why our ED renovation has been carefully planned to take place over four phases, with each one closing down a different section of the existing ED while the rest of the department functions as usual. I’m proud to report that we devised a plan that never reduces capacity at the ED during construction below the current level of 54 beds. Emergency care for this region will not take any steps backward during this construction, and instead will be rapidly moving forward as phases are completed.
But please understand that, in the short term, how you reach our main campus ED will change, starting with the front entrance. Patients and visitors will now park in the main hospital parking lot and enter through a temporary emergency entrance, which is to the right of our main entrance.
However, I want to be clear on this: If you are in medical distress, please drive or have your driver take you to the top of our front drive and stop by the new ED front door. A nurse and other clinical staff will assist the patient, and hospital police will help take care of getting your car where it needs to go. Emergency drop-offs of this nature are expected and our new configuration should not discourage them.
In the same vein, volunteers and hospital police officers will regularly patrol the visitor parking lot to assist patients who need emergency care.
Ambulances will continue to use the entrance they currently use, and eventually the front entrance to the Emergency Department will move back to its long-time location on Ambulance Drive.
So far, these changes in traffic and patient/visitor flow on our campus have gone smoothly, a tribute to the planning of our facilities leaders, our communication efforts and to the patience and understanding of our public, for which we are grateful.
As the construction evolves, the benefits of the new Emergency Department will begin to emerge, and there are many to list.
When we are finished, we will have invested $24.7 million to create twice as many patient care areas – 108 instead of 54. We will adopt many of the patient-friendly techniques that are part of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Emergency Department-North, which opened May 20 near the Pender County line on U.S. 17. The same Lean methodology that incorporated patients and frontline staff to design ED-North will be employed at our new renovated ED.
For example, for patients whose level of illness or injury is not as severe, we will offer rooms with recliners instead of beds, increasing comfort and maximizing space. Pediatric rooms will have brighter colors, with toys and games for young patients and their siblings. All rooms are designed to maximize how families can interact with patients.
We are expanding our radiology presence to get test results faster, and the new department design will improve the internal flow of staff, which means better communication with our patients.
Patients, families and visitors who seek a quieter moment will be able to visit an outdoor seating area and garden.
Finally, we’re devoting significant space in the new ED for a “Patient Resource Center,” where patients can apply for financial assistance, social programs, home care options and insurance programs. This is where social workers, care managers and representatives from community agencies will make sure patients have somewhere to go after leaving the ED and help remove social, emotional and other health barriers that may keep them from staying well.
This resource is an exciting acknowledgement that a role for the modern Emergency Department is to connect patients to community resources and take an active part in their ongoing health. It’s part of where health care is headed today, and it’s based on focusing first on the needs of the patient.
That’s where our focus continues to be. The new Emergency Department, even during the construction phase, will be a testament to how the best value in health care will always be the service that values patients most.
For the past 10 years, Jack Barto has been President and CEO at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, a 769-bed regional referral medical center serving Southeastern North Carolina. The medical center is licensed as a Level II Trauma Center and provides emergency medical services for New Hanover County. Its unique array of specialty services includes cardiac care, oncology, and neurology, and stand-alone hospitals for women’s and children’s services, orthopedic care, psychiatric care and inpatient rehabilitation. To learn more about NHRMC, please visit www.nhrmc.org. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected]. Like NHRMC on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nhrmcnc, or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nhrmc.
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