Breaking New Ground With ER

June 9, 2003
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MUSKEGON — Construction of a new $11 million ER represents the final stage of changes in how Hackley Hospital delivers emergency care.

The new emergency department now rising on a site adjacent to the north end of the hospital comes three years after Hackley administrators and ER staff examined the operation and instituted numerous process changes to improve the speed, efficiency and quality of care.

As a result, Hackley claimed that a patient arriving in the ER last year waited an average of just nine and a half minutes to see a physician, down from 30 minutes previously.

And Gerald Buchanan, M.D., chief of Hackley’s Department of Emergency Medicine, said Hackley essentially doubled the department’s capacity without any physical additions.

Now, with annual ER patient volumes continuing to grow rapidly and the existing facility unable to accommodate any further growth, Buchanan said Hackley is ready for new construction.

Implementing the operational changes before constructing the new ER enabled Hackley to generate efficiencies in the delivery of emergency care, and then design a new facility around that significantly improved system, he said.

“We turned it around and improved the processes and made our ER as efficient as we possibly could before going through the bricks and mortar expansion,” Buchanan said during a recent ceremonial groundbreaking.

“We maximized our efficiencies first. Otherwise, all you’re doing is taking a bad system and putting it in a bigger box.”

“Now it’s time to build the new ER,” he said.

Hackley’s current ER was constructed in the late ’80s as one segment of what then was a new trauma center.

Hackley, with patient visits growing by an average of 10.5 percent annually in the last five years, is following an industry trend by developing a new ER to accommodate future volumes, as well as to better segregate emergency and non-emergency cases and more efficiently treat people who go to the hospital for comparatively minor ailments.

Among the factors that are pushing patient volumes higher is the growing tendency — particularly among people without health insurance — to use emergency rooms for primary care when they have a medical problem.

Too, managed-care restrictions of the past have loosened to a degree, resulting in more ER traffic.

Many hospitals have expanded or reconfigured their ERs to better manage those use patterns. That includes Hackley’s chief competitor in Muskegon, Mercy General Hospital, which opened a new $9 million, 17,000-square-foot emergency department in February.

Hackley’s emergency department treated 52,975 patients in the last fiscal year that ended March 31, up by more than 20,000 from just five years earlier and nearly triple the volume the existing ER was designed to handle.

Hackley, an affiliate of Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, projects emergency department volumes to grow to 64,908 patients by the 2008 fiscal year.

The facility is designed for a capacity of 73,000 patients annually and for easy, low-cost expansion in the future, if needed.

Occupancy is targeted for the spring of 2004.

In last month’s ceremonial groundbreaking, Hackley Hospital President and CEO Gordon Mudler invoked the words of Charles Hackley — a shoreline lumber baron who helped found the hospital more than 100 years ago — who gave as his lone instruction: “Provide the best.”

“This work is ultimately about providing the citizens of Muskegon the best medical care possible in high-quality facilities on a timely basis,” Mudler said.

“Citizens of the Muskegon area have a right to expect nothing less. Hackley has an obligation to continue providing nothing less, and we intend to do just that.”

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