The city’s busiest emergency room is now more than twice as big and a lot more secure.
The new emergency department at Sacred Heart Medical Center, which will be completed this week, features new beds in private rooms, gleaming cutting-edge equipment and toys for tots. It also has secured doors, security cameras and a 24-hour guard.
“Man, we’ve got nice digs now,” said Guy Conger, a triage nurse who handles patients when they first walk through the doors.
These $4.5 million digs are huge - sprawled over 23,500 square feet compared with 9,300 square feet in the old department.
It’s a quieter place, with a lot of work being handled behind the secured doors leading to separate treatment areas for acute care, mental health crises and minor emergencies.
The wait in the ER could be the same as before since the hospital isn’t hiring more staff. But there are 13 new beds and more privacy than offered in the old ER. Most of the 34 beds are in individual rooms.
“If you’re going to talk about intimate things, you’d prefer not to just have a curtain between you and a neighbor,” said Dr. Rocky Kerr, one of 14 doctors staffing the emergency room.
The old department, built in 1971 to handle 20,000 patients annually, had suffered growing pains for years. About 38,000 patients were treated last year.
The waiting area was cramped. There was one entrance for everyone, from the elderly patient in a serious car wreck to the teenager with a sprained ankle. There were only two trauma rooms.
And the security system needed major improvements.
“We were pretty wide open,” said Janet Martin, director of the emergency room and trauma services.
The new ER, built in stages over the past 15 months, swallowed the old department, a nearby doctors lounge and the medical records and social services departments. It is capable of handling up to 50,000 patients a year.
The waiting area has been split into three spaces - for TV watching, for children and for quiet reading.
“We tried to make it a homey atmosphere,” said Martin, pointing at the purple chairs, the rainbow of children’s gadgets and the coffee machine.
Paramedics no longer rush trauma patients past a waiting room full of families. Ambulances now park at a separate entrance which connects directly to the acute-care area.
There are three trauma rooms plus a backup trauma room.
A security guard is posted at the department entrance around the clock. The actual treatment areas are located behind sealed doors, opened only by the staff. Security cameras are placed in strategic spots.
New features in the ER never before have been seen in Spokane. Bedpans and basins are made out of recycled telephone books coated in beeswax. The flushing system protects workers from spills.
The department also boasts the city’s first decontamination room, where patients sprayed with chemicals can be taken right from the ambulance and washed.
There still are bugs. Some patients don’t understand the signs. Others complain because they have to wait a long time, yet the emergency room doesn’t seem busy.
“It appears we’re not busy because they don’t see everything happening behind the doors,” Martin said.
Roomier quarters don’t mean a faster trip to the emergency room. As always, patients go through triage, which determines who needs care first.
But now there are four triage rooms instead of three. Patients can register at the same time they are going through triage instead of making two separate stops.
Like patients, staff members have had to adjust.
The same number of employees - about 100 - covers the department as before the renovation. Only four housekeeping workers were added.
Employees are happy about the better-organized department, but they’re concerned about communication.
Nurses up front aren’t always sure when ambulances arrive in back. The staff probably will get wireless phones in the next year to be able to talk back and forth quickly.
Charge nurse Colleen Schmidt said the staff is watching the same number of patients as before. But staffers are covering more ground, and at times it’s difficult to coordinate, she said.
Still, Schmidt said, “it feels kind of like we went from Main Street to the Ritz.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos Graphic: Sacred Heart’s ER improvements
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