New ER Revives Mercy General

February 14, 2003
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MUSKEGON — A new $9 million high-tech emergency department at Mercy General Health Partners, designed for improved patient privacy and convenience, represents the first element of construction planned at its main hospital campus.

Mercy General is looking at $35 million in additional expansions in the next three to five years at the Sherman Street site, hospital President and CEO Roger Spoelman said.

Under consideration is the expansion of outpatient and surgical units, as well as construction of a new patient tower to add beds and private rooms, Spoelman said. The freeing up of space now housing the emergency department through next week's opening of the new 17,000-square-foot ER gives the hospital flexibility in planning additional surgical suites and clinics, he said.

"The luxury of having some unused space on our campus and a new facility is just a gift," Spoelman said. "That's perfect real estate. We're still studying that and trying to decide what's the best use for it."

For now, Spoelman and Mercy General staff have their attention on opening the new ER, a facility with numerous built-in technological advances that will greatly enhance the efficiency in moving patients through the care system.

As the hospital marks its 100th anniversary, the new ER is a "fitting tribute to our legacy of service to the community," Spoelman said.

The improved privacy and convenience the new ER will offer are areas that rate highly in consumer satisfaction surveys. Mercy General has more than 40,000 emergency room visits annually, up from a little more than 32,000 just four years ago. Patient volumes are growing rapidly, and with 35 percent of Mercy General's inpatient admissions originating in the ER, the need for a new facility to replace an aging ER that has long exceeded capacity was obvious, Spoelman said.

"It's a front door to your facility. It's a wide-open portal to your whole delivery system," he said.

For the first time, Mercy General will have a "Fast Track" urgent care center that will enable staff to immediately triage and separate comparatively minor cases — cuts, sprains, high fevers, etc. — from critical patients and treat them quickly. The Fast Track center results in the elimination of the traditional hospital ER waiting room for incoming patients.

With 34 private examination rooms, the new ER has nearly twice the capacity of the existing facility. Among the other features: two trauma units equipped for surgery and digital x-rays, West Michigan's only hospital chemical decontamination room, a chest pain observation area with private rooms, bedside registration using wireless laptop computers, a computerized wireless patient monitoring system, and a pneumatic tube system that quickly sends specimens to the hospital lab or paperwork to each floor.

The mere physical layout of the facility, as well as changes in several processes, will improve patient flow and workflow. The built-in technology and systems will generate additional efficiencies, although any resulting savings in operating costs and exact efficiency gains are hard to gauge.

"I don't think, until we get in it, we'll know. We know it's going to improve," said Dr. Ed Lutkus, director of emergency service at Mercy General.

Mercy General Health Partners is the first hospital in the Muskegon County market to build a new ER.

Rival Hackley Hospital is awaiting state approval to proceed with plans for a $9.9 million, 27,000-square-foot emergency department that, with 32 treatment rooms, will more than double the capacity of the existing facility. Work on Hackley's new ER is scheduled to begin later this year, pending state approval. Occupancy is targeted for the summer of 2004.

Like Mercy General, Hackley has seen its ER patient volumes grow rapidly in recent years. The Hackley ER traffic has grown 50 percent in five years and is on track to treat more than 53,400 patients in the current fiscal year.    

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