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A 21st-century ER at MultiCare

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on April 14, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
April 14, 2010 6:22 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

American health care is the most expensive in the world. That’s not entirely a bad thing: We sometimes get a whole lot for the money.

MultiCare’s new $72 million emergency department, which opens today, is a good example. At 73,500 square feet, it is 10 times larger than the department it replaces and will transform the way patients are treated when rushed to Tacoma General and Mary Bridge hospitals.

The old department was created in 1992 – not so long ago, in the scheme of things – but a surge in patients and multiple revolutions in urgent care had left it looking downright primitive. And crowded: Designed for 32,000 visits a year, it reached 74,000 last year. Exam rooms were too few and too small. Non-urgent patients often had long waits in the cramped waiting room before they got seen; once through the doors, they and their doctors often wound up in the hallway.

The staff of 50 had only a single restroom, shared by male and female alike. Their lounge had been taken away, turned into a patient room. When blood spurted and hearts faltered, equipment and supplies had to be rushed from one room to another. It wasn’t exactly a sweatshop, but harried doctors and nurses couldn’t be blamed for wanting something better.

They got it. The new department could not be a bigger improvement. At last, children needing Mary Bridge’s pediatric specialists have a separate waiting room – and both the adult and child waiting areas are spacious and inviting. But they may see less use: The dramatic expansion of treatment rooms and staff means patients are likely to get in without extended delays.

The flexible, well-equipped treatment areas give staff immediate access to supplies and technology wherever needed. Cordless digital imaging devices are close at hand. Patient rooms are private, with controlled ventilation, for the sake of comfort and infection control. Computers connect medicines to patients and monitor inventories. The interiors are designed to lower stress. Private counseling rooms make it easier to hold confidential conversations.

Today’s opening – like last year’s opening of St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor – represents a major improvement of the South Sound’s medical infrastructure. It is particularly important for distressed and injured children who will now receive state-of-the-art pediatric emergency care in a far more comforting setting.

There is the cost. But much of funding came from community donations. And unlike wasteful Medicare spending and other money pits in the health care system, MultiCare’s new emergency department promises to actually make life better for patients and providers.

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