Highline Medical Center’s New Emergency Dept. Set To Open April 9-10

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by Ralph Nichols

A few years ago, when I worked as a volunteer in the Emergency Department at Highline Medical Center, the waiting area usually was filled with patients and family members well into the evening.

Patients waited, as they still do, for their turn to be screened in a single triage room, then waited longer for a treatment room to become available. That’s not surprising since the crowded Highline Emergency Department, designed to handle 12,000 patients a year 50 years ago, now provides care for nearly 50,000 patients annually.

But all this will change soon. Construction of a new state-of-the-art Emergency Department that will triple the size of the current facility is nearing completion – on time and on budget. When its doors open to patients on April 13, waiting times for triage and treatment will decrease dramatically.

The new patient-friendly facility also will improve exponentially the convenience and efficiency of the working environment for physicians, nurses, radiology and lab technicians, and everyone else who contributes to the care of Highline’s emergency patients.

B-Town Blog photographer Michael Brunk and I joined a tour of the new Emergency Department on Jan. 19 – shortly after the end of major construction activity as the finishing process got underway. No equipment or furnishings had yet been installed.

Even at this incomplete stage, however, one thing was immediately apparent – the new Emergency Department is a magnificently awesome improvement over the current emergency facility.

Highline Medical Center CEO Mark Benedum described it well: “a facility that’s up to the care the staff’s been providing.”

Benedum said planning for the new Emergency Department began in 2005, with the start of construction on the $60 million project (which includes a new 31 bed Patient Care Unit) getting underway in 2008.

Highline Medical Center’s  service area extends from West Seattle to Federal Way and from Tukwila to Vashon Island, and most of its emergency patients come from this region – as well as persons driving along Interstate 5 and both passengers and employees at Sea-Tac International Airport.

Combine the size of this service area with its population growth in the last two decades and it’s easy to see why the aging emergency facility is overcrowded, noted Renée Klein, Executive Director of the Highline Medical Center Foundation.

The differences between the current facility and the new Emergency Department are strikingly apparent the moment one walks into its main entrance, which is on the west side of the medical center not far from the current emergency entrance.

The interior is bright and airy, with large windows that provide ample natural light, as well as spacious – 27,000 square feet compared with the current 9,000 square feet. In fact, the main nurses station area, well inside the Emergency Department, looks as if it could hold the entire existing facility.

Just beyond the reception desk are three private triage rooms, which will speed evaluation of patients, reducing their time in the general waiting area. Patients then will be taken to any of the 32 large, private treatment rooms, where admitting can be done at bedside.

Every room is universally equipped – “hardwired” – to handle any emergency. Two of the rooms are dedicated for pediatric care. The current facility has 19 beds, only eight of which are hardwired.

The ambulance entrance – with an ambulance bay that can accommodate about a dozen emergency vehicles including police cars – is on the north side of the Emergency Department. Two trauma bays for serious emergencies such as heart attacks are immediately inside. Each is designed to handle two patients if necessary.

Two diagnostic imaging rooms – one x-ray, the other CT, both dedicated for emergency patients – and a separate diagnostic imaging waiting room are located just beyond the triage rooms.

In addition, there are two seclusion rooms for psychiatric and other patients who require additional security, an isolation room for highly contagious patients, a decontamination room with an outside entrance for disasters and contact with hazardous materials, a separate area for first responders – emergency medical and law enforcement personnel – to write their reports, and a private family consultation room.

Designed byNAC Architecture, the Emergency Department was planned “from the physicians’ and nurses’ point of view” to provide “rapid treatment,” Klein said. The general contractor is GLY Construction .

One floor above the new Emergency Department is a 31-bed Patient Care Unit for medical and cancer patients. (Look for a report on this unit on the B-Town Blog soon.) Beneath it is a parking garage for those going to the Emergency Department.

The grand opening of the Emergency Department is set for April 9-10, and will include an open house for the public.

Klein noted that while most of the cost of the new facility was paid through bonds and capital reserves, only $5.4 million of a $10 million capital campaign has come in or been pledged. “I’m optimistic that the community will help us with that last amount,” she said.

Highline Medical Center receives no tax dollars for capital expenses and general operations, and relies largely on grants and pledges. If you would like to learn more about how to support Highline’s Campaign for a New ER, log on to www.LifeDependsOnIt.org or call the Foundation office at 206.901.8500.

Here’s Michael Brunk’s Photo Slideshow of the facility:

Click to View Michael Brunk’s Photo Slideshow

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