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Emergency room makeover

Emergency room makeoverHospitals everywhere facethe need to expand emergency rooms to meet the changing requirements of urgent care

In a medical emergency, nobody wants to wait.

The problem is, all emergencies aren't created equal. Doctors and nurses in the emergency department see everything from bee stings and sore throats to heart attacks and broken bones.

Hospitals are changing their approach to emergency care to reflect the wide range of medical conditions they have to treat. They're also increasing the size of their emergency departments to handle the growing number of patients who come to their doors.

Providence Medford Medical Center's new emergency department reflects both trends in emergency medicine. Providence more than doubled the size of its emergency department ' from 12 treatment rooms to 32 ' and the rooms are arranged in three categories to serve patients' different needs, said Ginny Friesen, director of critical care services at Providence.

The concept (of providing quick care) hasn't changed, Friesen said. How we process people through the system has changed.

— The new emergency department opens Monday. Providence will celebrate the opening with an open house Saturday from — to — p.m.

Sixteen treatment rooms have been allocated for people with medical emergencies (such as broken bones and heart attacks) that need immediate attention. There are also six fast track rooms for people with relatively minor complaints, such as a persistent sore throat, and 10 observation rooms for people who need to be observed for a few hours to determine whether they need more medical attention.

Friesen said the three-tiered system should make shorter wait times for everyone, especially people with minor ailments. They will go directly to the fast-track rooms instead of sitting in the waiting room while more seriously ill patients get treatment.

The goal is to get all outpatients in and out in a timely manner, Friesen said, but to prioritize them so people who aren't so sick don't wait as long.

Triage nurses will decide where to assign patients.

The new treatment rooms were equipped to handle a wide range of medical procedures. Three of the rooms for accident victims have their own X-ray machines to save time during a life-threatening emergency. A decontamination room includes a large shower to wash people who have been exposed to toxic chemicals.

A pediatric treatment room was equipped with a crib to contain rambunctious toddlers. The crib features a clear plastic cover and rails that can be opened from several positions while keeping the child enclosed.

The floor of the crib can be tilted, too, nurse Betty Martinez noted during a tour. They're gonna think it's really fun. It's like they're on a ride or something.

The new rooms reflect patients' desire for more creature comforts and privacy. There are telephones and televisions in every room, and doors in each room instead of curtains. There is a bathroom for every two rooms, instead of the single bathroom that served the old ED.

Providence's expansion, combined with the new emergency department at Rogue Valley Medical Center, gives the region more than twice as many emergency beds as it had just five years ago. The new beds are needed to accommodate the region's growing population in general and its senior cohort in particular.

As we age, our health care problems tend to increase, Friesen said.

Emergency departments also attract people who can't get an appointment to see a doctor or lack the money to pay for medical care. Federal law requires emergency departments to treat whoever comes to their door, regardless of their ability to pay.

We're the fail-safe for the community, said Heather Freiheit, trauma coordinator for RVMC's emergency department.

Emergency departments are growing all over Oregon, said Kent Ballantyne, of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. He noted that statewide visits to emergency departments increased 6.53 percent in the second quarter of 2005 over the second quarter of 2004.

It's an expensive way to get care, he said, but some people chose to use hospitals because they're there and they're open.

Emergency room makeover"bkettler@mailtribune.com.

Electrician Lee Carroll of Roseburg connects phone lines in one of Providence Medford Medical Center?s new patient rooms in the overhauled emergency department. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli