New emergency department in HCMH’s future
Plans in the works to either build new or refurbish existing ER
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Sept. 28, 2006 - Hopkins County Memorial Hospital's board of directors is taking a close look at the hospital's emergency department and how to meet growing needs, whether by building a new emergency room or refurbishing the existing facility.

Increasing costs of insurance and health care are resulting in more and more people using a hospital emergency room as an outpatient clinic. National statistics indicate that more than half  — and as much as 70 percent — of all emergency room visits are not true emergencies, but rather for primary care.

"We are seeing more and more of that in the emergency room as people either lose insurance or lose their jobs and have no other place to get healthcare," said Michael McAndrew, chief executive officer for the hospital. "Our volumes continue to increase."

With that increase in the number of people coming to the emergency room, dissatisfaction with the facility also goes up.

"They expect to be seen pretty quickly, and I think they are, unless the emergency room is busy," he said. "If the emergency room is busy and there are heart attacks and broken hips and other things, those people are going to take precedence, obviously."

McAndrew said another source of dissatisfaction is  semi-private exam rooms, something a new emergency department would resolve with private rooms that are also demanded by new privacy issues. More private rooms will also enable the staff to get patients out of the waiting room more quickly.

Waiting rooms, where people sit waiting to receive medical attention or waiting for a friend or loved one, are also a part of the concern for the emergency department.

"We have a very small waiting room," McAndrew agreed. "I've been out here when it's crowded and it's unpleasant ... and, of course, they see the ambulance come in and get angry because they are sick and the patient from the ambulance is being taken in ahead of them."

To meet the needs, new construction is being planned at HCMH.

"We've got a new emergency department coming," McAndrew said. "The emergency department, you know, a lot of people consider to be the window to the hospital."

Staff satisfaction is also expected to improve with the expanded facilities in the emergency department.

"The final piece that's missing is the emergency department itself," he said.

The hospital will begin interviewing architects for construction of a new emergency department in October and should be ready to break ground on the facility within six to nine months.

Preliminary plans call for the new department to be constructed outside the current hospital building, but the possibility exists for parts of the current emergency room to be used also.

"The only thing we don't know at this point is, will we build a whole new emergency room or just simply add on to it and refurbish the old part," McAndrew said. "We just don't know that yet. We will figure that out with the architect."

When hospital board members initially began talking about the emergency room last year, they were anticipating costs of $5 to $7 million, but the numbers have changed.

"When we talk to cost estimators today, they say 'We will give you a cost estimate today but it won't be good tomorrow,'" he said. 

The cost of copper, concrete and steel continue to go up, in turn, pushing cost estimates for a new emergency department higher.

"What started out as a $5 to $7 million dollar project [may now be] a $7 to $10 million project," McAndrew said.

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