Mercy General Plans 8.9M ER Expansion

June 5, 2002
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MUSKEGON — Mercy General Health Partners, feeling the squeeze from a 1998 merger that closed a sister’s hospital’s ER and the changing role of emergency medicine, plans to break ground early next year on a new $8.9 million emergency department designed to better manage critical and non-critical cases.

In the planning stages for more than six years, the project will expand the number of emergency examination and treatment rooms and significantly improve patient privacy, as well as feature a level 2 trauma unit and a separate area that will enable staff to quickly examine and treat people with comparatively minor ailments and injuries.

The design reflects changes in how ERs are used today, as a growing number of people go to the hospital for relatively minor problems rather than see their family physician or visit a medical clinic. They often end up waiting for an extended period, sometimes hours, as the more serious cases are taken first.

“We’re bursting at the seams here,” said Rem Sprague, the Muskegon hospital’s vice president and chief medical officer. “We just really don’t have the capacity with our current space to provide service in a timely fashion.”

Mercy General’s goal is to better separate the “low acuity” from the serious cases and turn them over faster in a new “fast track” area of the ER, he said.

“You don’t have the mixed population being managed by the same staff,” Sprague said. “It’s a matter of putting the system in place and dedicating people to the concept.”

The hospital hopes to have the new emergency department, planned as an addition to the eastern side of the hospital, open by late 2002 or early 2003.

Mercy General began the regulatory review process for the project early this month when it filed an application with the Alliance for Health, a Grand Rapids health-care planning agency. The agency will evaluate the hospital’s plan and recommend to the Michigan Department of Community Health whether to issue the Certificate of Need required to proceed.

The Alliance for Health will begin its evaluation of the Mercy General project in July, President Lody Zwarensteyn said. Based on an initial review, Mercy General’s plan appears to have a lot of merit, Zwarensteyn said.

Mercy General is seeing the number of visits to its ER grow at a rate of about 9 percent annually. Visits grew from 32,066 in 1998 to 36,290 in 2000, and are projected to increase to 42,580 in 2003.

“Those things mitigate for doing something,” Zwarensteyn said. “They are retooling the ER to meet the realities of what they’re being faced with.”

The annual growth in visits to the Mercy General ER comes despite the development of two walk-in medical clinics in the Muskegon area in recent years and stepped up efforts to educate people about when to use the ER. It also is on top of the additional caseload resulting from the 1998 merger of the former Muskegon General and Mercy hospital that formed Mercy General Health Partners.

After the merger, the newly formed hospital decided to close the emergency room at Muskegon General, which handled 15,000 to 20,000 visits annually, and transfer the caseload to the former Mercy campus on Sherman Boulevard, just west of U.S. 31.

Mercy General will finance the project through it own operating funds, lending through its parent corporation, Detroit-based Trinity Health, and a fund campaign that will seek to raise $2 million over three years.

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