Hackley, projecting annual emergency department visits to grow by more than 20,000 within a decade, wants to begin construction on the project by next spring and have it completed and ready for occupancy in spring of 2004.
The new emergency department will provide the space needed to accommodate growing volumes in the years ahead and replace the 23-year-old facility. Even with process improvements that enable staff to better handle rising patient volumes, the hospital has run out of room to handle further growth.
“There’s no more space to eke out of that place,” said Gayle Miller, Hackley’s chief operating officer. “We just aren’t going to be able to accommodate the volume.”
Hackley, an affiliate of Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health, this month filed a letter of intent with the Michigan Department of Community Health, offering preliminary details of the project. The hospital plans to file a formal application by September seeking permission to proceed with construction.
Following national trends, Hackley Hospital has seen emergency department volumes grow substantially over the years. The department, built for a capacity of 18,000 annual visits, treated more than 51,500 people in 2001. Patient visits in the last six years alone have grown 65 percent, nearly three times the countywide growth rate for ER visits.
Hackley expects patient volumes to grow to more than 73,000 annually within 10 to 12 years, Miller said.
Better accommodating that growth is important from much more than a service and clinical sense — it’s good business, too. Sixty percent of the hospital’s inpatient admissions start through the emergency department, Miller said.
“It’s a huge entry point and that alone makes the project worthwhile,” she said.
Hackley administrators credit much of the growth to both national trends that are pushing emergency departments across the country to capacity, and to the changes the hospital implemented in 1999 to improve service. After changing more than 150 processes two years ago in the emergency department, Hackley is now able to better separate emergency from non-emergency cases.
The non-emergency cases are diagnosed and treated far more quickly than before, with the average wait now reduced to 14 minutes from the time a patient walks into the hospital to when that patient sees a doctor.
That improvement, and the convenience generated for patients who go to the ER for treatment of relatively mild conditions such as an ankle sprain or the flu, is “a big part of why we have such a big volume,” in the emergency department, said Lori Muellerleile, Hackley’s director of nursing operations and administration.
Part of the challenge of designing a new emergency department is maintaining the service improvements of the past two years. Hackley and its architect will design the new emergency department around the process changes and efficiencies they’ve generated, as well as to readily accommodate future expansion as patient volumes continue to grow.
“It’s going to be built around all the new models we have instituted,” Miller said.
The new emergency department, planned as an addition to the north end of the hospital on land purchased in 1999 from Calvary Church, will have more than twice the space of the existing unit and expand the number of treatment beds from 22 to 32.
The project is Hackley’s biggest since the 1988 construction of the Hackley Professional Building for physician offices.
“It’s a real event in Hackley’s history and life,” Community Relations Manager Stuart Jones said.
Hackley is not alone among hospitals in lakeshore communities expanding its emergency department.
Rival Mercy General Health Partners of Muskegon is working on a $9 million expansion of its ER. The project is scheduled for completion next spring.
In Grand Haven, expanding the ER is a key component of a $9.3 million first-floor renovation planned for North Ottawa Community Hospital.
Nationally, ER visits grew 14 percent from 1997 to 2000, to 108 million, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians, an organization that represents 22,000 ER doctors nationwide.