St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center opens new Emergency Services Building and breaks ground on last phase of expansion
By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor
Sunlight slants through a wall of double-height windows, brightening the long, modern room. Staff and volunteers circulate quietly among those seated in coves of chairs, giving updates or bringing a cup of coffee. There is no clamoring PA system, no blaring sirens, no canned elevator music. Despite being quite busy, the waiting area at the recently completed Ralph and Christina Nappi Emergency Services Building at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse is — surprisingly, wonderfully — calm.
The building, which houses the new emergency department (ED), Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP), chest pain unit and electronic data center, opened in February and marked the completion of another phase of St. Joseph’s $265 million campus-wide expansion project. St. Joseph’s is financing the entire expansion project through its Generations capital campaign, hospital reserves and tax-exempt bonding from the Onondaga Civic Development Corporation.
A new emergency department was a top priority for the hospital, given the increasing demand for services and the limited space in the previous ED — upwards of 55,000 patients per year were being cared for in a space meant for 30,000 annual visits. Improving the patient experience and increasing the efficiency with which medical staff could work were also key goals.
“The old ED was built in the 70s and was not able to accommodate the volumes [of patients] we were seeing,” said Kerri Ganci, the hospital’s director of public relations and marketing. “We had to expand in order to better serve our patients.”
After an extensive research and design process and 20 months of construction, the new facility reflects the industry’s best practices and the staff’s ideal vision.
“The team designed this for the patients and for themselves, and it comes from the heart,” said Sarah Tubbert, RN-C, MSN, FNP, director of the ED. “This is our dream space.”
The improvements begin in the parking lot, which has twice the capacity of the old ED. In the back of the building, the ambulance bay now has space for 13, 9 more than before, and a dedicated entrance that opens almost directly into critical care rooms.
Walk-in patients and visitors also have their own entrance now, where they pass through security and are greeted by a volunteer at the sign-in desk. In an adjacent exam room, a nurse is able to quickly evaluate and triage patients. The bright, airy waiting room seats 90 and includes a play area for young children.
Behind a badge-access door — almost all the doors in the facility have this safety feature — the ED is spacious and flowing, lit from above by skylights. It is separated into five areas with 54 total beds, 10 more than in the old space: a 12-bed “super track” zone for patients who can be cared for quickly, a 4-bed critical care zone and three acute care zones with 38 private beds. Each zone, home to a team of providers and support staff, is equipped with a centrally located supply and prep area, a point-of-care testing area and a pneumatic tube system that sends tests off to the lab at the main hospital.
The average length of a patient’s stay in the ED is declining, Tubbert said. Regardless of how long or brief that stay is, though, making the experience as positive as possible is key.
“The private rooms are designed for patient comfort, privacy, satisfaction,” said Jessica Caruso, RN, manager of the ED.
Noise-reducing sliding glass doors and privacy curtains enclose each bed. Doctors’ and nurses’ tools are fixed vertically to either side of the wall behind the patient’s head, allowing two providers to work simultaneously and ergonomically. Electronic touchpads on the walls are linked to mobile phones carried by the medical staff; the push of a button sends a message — a new patient has arrived, a change of sheets is needed — directly to the appropriate person, eliminating a constant stream of loudspeaker pages and announcements.
In addition to the physical and medical improvements, St. Joseph’s is also working to address the personal side of a visit to the ED. Patient advocates and new “angel” volunteers are on hand to visit, lend an ear, bring a snack, act as liaisons between patients and medical staff.
“From the patient’s point of view, coming to the ER is very anxiety-producing. [An angel] is a friendly presence who will come into a room to alleviate some of the anxiety with a conversation,” said volunteer angel Ann Ferro. “[A hospital stay] is medical and scientific and technical, but there’s a human part.”
Patient advocate Nancy Jamieson agrees.
“People want to be acknowledged,” she said. She spends much of her time in the waiting area talking with patients and families and checking in on patients in beds. Jamieson also works closely with the charge nurse to facilitate communication between patients and staff. The work is very meaningful for her.
“I like to think that I’m the hands and feet of Christ,” she said.
Tubbert and Caruso said patient feedback on the new facility has been very positive. Patients find the environment healing and the flow of their treatment improved. For their parts, Tubbert and Caruso are also happy to have a safe, streamlined, sun-filled facility that will serve patients well into the future.
St. Joseph’s has already broken ground on the final phase of the expansion, which will include construction of 110 private patient rooms, 14 operating rooms and a walkable, landscaped “greenway corridor” linking the hospital to businesses in the north side Little Italy neighborhood. This phase is estimated to be complete in 2014 and to cost $140 million.