It might be the nicest place in Columbus you hope never to see.
Thursday morning, The Medical Center will open its new 24,000-square-foot emergency and trauma center, hospital officials announced this week. The 40-odd people per shift who work in emergency services at The Medial Center will be moving out of a 14,500-square-foot facility.
“We are excited that we are able to expand the emergency services we offer the region,” said Dr. Andrew Williams, medical director of emergency services for The Medical Center.
The Medical Center is the only trauma center in this part of the state, so it serves that capacity for not only West Central Georgia, but parts of east Alabama, too. Currently, the emergency department sees about 160 patients a day, said Jan Nichols, the hospital’s community relations manager.
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“And we expect that to go up,” she said.
Not only are emergency room visits increasing, but so are the nature of the visits, Williams said.
“The number of admissions from the emergency department to the hospital has continued to increase,” he said. “This indicates patients are coming to the emergency department with more severe conditions than in the past.”
The new facility will allow staff to treat more people quickly while changing the way patients and their families experience the facility, Nichols said.
When patients come in they will see an admissions person and a registered nurse, who will decide whether immediate medical attention is necessary, said Michelle Wallace, director of emergency services. From there, the patient will go to one of three small exam rooms where medical personnel will further assess what level of care they need and send them to the proper treatment area.
Patients who arrive by ambulance will enter through a side door directly into the trauma center. Not all ambulance patients require trauma care, but practically all trauma patients arrive by ambulance, Nichols explained.
The hospital’s new helipad is also near the ambulance entrance, allowing those patients, who are almost always critical, to enter directly into the trauma unit, said Nichols, who estimated that about 10 patients a week arrive by helicopter.
The shock and trauma center occupies its own space, where six treatment bays feature full surgical lighting and bristle with medical equipment.
Only a few feet away is the center’s CT scanner, a luxury the old ER did not have. In the old unit, patients had to be carted “to the other end of the hospital,” Wallace said.
The new proximity can make a life-saving difference, said Lauren Kubik, a registered nurse who serves as the trauma center’s coordinator.
All stroke and trauma patients get CT scans, Kubik said.
Their goal is for stroke patients to get it within 20 minutes and trauma patients within an hour. With the CT room “around the corner” that can be cut down to a few minutes.
In fact, in extreme cases, a patient could be wheeled straight into the room on the ambulance’s gurney, she said.
In addition to the CT scanner, the new facility offers several new features.
A decontamination shower room has shower heads for four patients who have been exposed to toxic materials. Just off that room is an outdoor shower area where up to 10 people can be decontaminated.
“And we have a concrete pad (a few feet away) where we can put up a de-con tent that can handle 40 people,” Wallace said.
Among the more high-tech features is a staff tracking system.
Personnel will wear a tracking device that allows them to be located from any computer terminal.
This isn’t just for staff convenience, Wallace said. It’s also to hold down the noise.
“If I need to page someone and I know exactly which room he’s in, I don’t have to disturb patients in all the other rooms,” she said.
The opening of the new facility represents Phase I of a $25 million project. Phase II begins as soon as the staff vacates the old emergency center, Nichols said.
That facility will be renovated over the next six months, and will again become part of the emergency center.
That will give the facility close to 40,000 square feet of space.
The new facility opens Thursday for business, but a grand opening and ribbon cutting is scheduled for this morning at 11:30 at the patient entrance, which is just to the left of the old ER entrance.
Public tours of the facility will follow around 12:15 p.m., Nichols said.
After that, the medical personnel start moving into the facility.
“The staff is very excited, especially the ones who have been here for 20 years or more,” Kubik said. “For years, they’ve heard, ‘We’re building a new ER. We’re building a new ER.’ But it was always something else. So everybody is really excited about the possibilities.”