New ER Is New Beginning For Mercy


    MUSKEGON — Construction of a new $9 million emergency department is “just the beginning” for Mercy General Health Partners, as the Muskegon health system plans for additional clinical and capital improvements in the future.

    Mercy General broke ground last week on the new emergency department for its Sherman Boulevard campus. The project comes just after Mercy General completed work on a $2.9 million addition to the hospital’s birthing unit, which was the first new construction the hospital had undertaken in 30 years.

    The Dr. Joel T. Martin Emergency Center “represents what we believe will be a number of significant investments” at Mercy General in the future, said Denny Cherette, chairman of the health system’s board.

    “This represents a significant movement toward the upgrading of the facility,” Cherette said during a Nov. 9 ceremonial groundbreaking. “This is just the beginning. What we want to do is provide for the best facilities to take care of people.”

    Mercy General Health Partners, created through the 1997 merger of Muskegon General Hospital and Muskegon Mercy Healthcare System, is now in the midst of developing a master facilities plan that could lead to additional new construction or renovations, as well as reactivating licensed beds that are presently unused, President Roger Spoelman said.

    “We’ve got some beds mothballed if we can use them,” he said.

    Mercy General is now licensed for 302 beds. The Sherman Boulevard campus presently has 175 beds in active use and consistently runs at an average occupancy rate of more than 80 percent, Spoelman said.

    The Oak Avenue campus uses another 28 beds for obstetrics and short surgical stays.

    The health system, at the same time it’s analyzing the use of its existing plant and planning the future use of facilities, is looking at future clinical needs, particularly in surgery, cardiac and inpatient care, Spoelman said.

    The outcome of those analyses will determine future investments in clinical services and facilities, he said.

    For now the focus in on completing the new emergency department, named after Dr. Joel Martin, the long-time emergency director at the former Muskegon General Hospital and co-director at Mercy General, who died in 1999.

    The project, scheduled for occupancy in late 2002 or early 2003, will expand the number of examination and treatment rooms and significantly improve patient privacy, as well as feature a separate Quick Care area that will enable staff to quickly examine and treat people with comparatively minor ailments and injuries. Bedside registration via laptop computers eliminates the need for an ER waiting room.

    The design reflects changes in how ERs are used today, as a growing number of people go to the hospital for relatively minor problems rather than see their family physician or visit a medical clinic. They often end up waiting for an extended period, sometimes hours, as the more serious cases are taken first.

    “This is truly the front door of our health system,” Spoelman said of the ER. “We are certainly going to make the front door the most inviting entrance into our health system as it can possibly be.”

    Mercy General is seeing the number of visits to its ER grow at a rate of about 9 percent annually. Visits grew from 32,066 in 1998 — the year following the merger and subsequent closure of the Oak Avenue ER — to 36,290 in 2000. Visits are projected to increase to 42,580 in 2003.

    The project also includes a Level 2 trauma unit, a dedicated ambulance entrance to separate walk-in from trauma patients, a HAZMAT chemical decontamination area, a Family Support Room for families who’ve experienced the serious illness or loss of a loved one, and private examining rooms “that won’t be a cubicle with curtains,” Spoelman said.

    Mercy General is financing the project through it own operating funds, lending through its parent corporation, Detroit-based Trinity Health, and part of the proceeds from a fund campaign that seeks to raise $2 million over three years for both the ER construction and birthing unit addition.

    The capital campaign has raised $1.3 million to date, Development Director Claudine Weber said. That includes a $250,000 donation from the Mercy General Health Partners Auxiliary and $100,000 from the MGHP Team Club that consists of health system employees.

    The health system, in addition to the two main campuses, has 10 physician offices, a medical clinic and a nursing home. Mercy General Health Partners, with more than 1,900 employees, generated 2000 revenues of $290 million.

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