Patients support The Medical Center Emergency Department's $25 million expansion

Jose Velazquez remembers the exact date that the car he was driving crashed into a tree. It was Dec. 12, 2008. The Smiths Station, Ala., man was driving his brother’s car, which his sibling said had been having mechanical problems. Velazquez, a former mechanic, had planned to take a look at it.

But as he was getting onto J.R. Allen Parkway from Second Avenue in Columbus, the car stalled and Velazquez lost control. The car ended up “wrapped around a pine tree,” he said.

An ambulance rushed him to The Medical Center’s emergency room.

“I wasn’t expecting such a big accident,” said Velazquez’s wife, Cynthia. “I was numb. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream.”

Velazquez survived the serious accident and he’s been going through physical therapy for his injuries for the past four months.

On Wednesday, he shared his story in front of Columbus Regional Healthcare System executives, physicians, nurses and other supporters during the organization’s official announcement of the nearly $25 million expansion of The Medical Center Emergency Department.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here,” the 37-year-old said of the Emergency Department team.

Velazquez is just one of the many patients The Medical Center has seen in one of its busiest departments. About 40 percent of admissions at the facility are through the ER. Of the 52,593 emergency visits between July 2008 and July 2009, 1,002 were classified as trauma cases.

Details about expansion

The Ledger-Enquirer reported last week Columbus Regional had received approval from the Georgia Department of Community Health to more than double the size of its Emergency Department at The Medical Center — a move prompted by its surging patient volumes and anticipated growth in the next few years.

The department will grow to about 38,168 square feet from 14,500 square feet and will house 46 patient treatment bays instead of 34. The department will be divided into three areas to help manage patient flow: trauma cases, general treatment and “fast-track” medical evaluations for cases that may not be true emergencies. A computerized tomography scanner will also be installed on site, rather than emergency room staff having to rely on an adjacent radiology department.

Dr. Drew Williams, medical director of Emergency Services at The Medical Center, said the larger space should also further support a team approach to cases. All this, he added, should enhance the care patients receive.

David Peak said he thought the expansion was a “wonderful” project. Peak had been treated at The Medical Center after suffering a stroke two years ago.

The Americus, Ga., resident told the crowd at the hospital Wednesday he just happened to be in Columbus eating lunch when he started experiencing strange symptoms.

“About halfway through the meal, I couldn’t see anything but clouds,” he said.

Peak’s brother, Fred, was able to get him to the emergency room within 30 minutes. Peak was treated quickly, and today, he said he hasn’t experienced any side effects. If not treated immediately, strokes can cause loss of balance or coordination, confusion, trouble seeing or death.

“We’re so grateful for everything y’all do,” he told Columbus Regional officials and staffers that afternoon.

Construction on the emergency department project should be completed by late summer 2011.