Hospital ER overcrowded, new building sought

SCPH registered almost 12,000 emergency patients in ‘08

St. Charles Parish Hospital is hoping that voters will OK the care provider’s proposal to borrow $11.5 million to refinance existing bonds and construct a new building to house an expanded emergency room.

From Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, the hospital’s six-bed emergency room registered 10,636 patients, with 1,000 more expected in December. Around 76 percent of those patients came from within the parish.

Karen Guillot, the hospital’s Chief Operating Officer, said that the average wait time at the emergency room is around 30 minutes, but can stretch to an hour or an hour and a half depending on the circumstances. Because of those wait times, the hospital says that 4 percent of its registered patients leave before seeing a doctor.

And the number of visits doesn’t seem to be dropping off anytime soon.

According to the Health Care Advisory Board, demand for emergency care has surged over the past decade while the total number of emergency departments in the United States has declined. That’s mainly due to hospital closures and mergers.

Federico Martinez, the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, said that southern Louisiana has been hit particularly hard by hospital closures in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He also said that the rising number of uninsured citizens across the country, as well as the dwindling number of psych units, has played a big part in the increased visits emergency rooms are currently experiencing.

“Our psych unit runs 100 percent full all the time and we’ve even had to treat some of those psych patients in our emergency room next to other patients,” Martinez said. “I’m not trying to scare anybody from coming to the emergency room, but I’m just trying to illustrate one of the reasons why we need a bigger emergency department.”

If voters approve the $11.5 million bond issue, the hospital would use more than half of that money – $6.3 million – to refinance bond debt. Any savings would then be used to build a new emergency department, as well as construct a new lab department and purchase equipment.

The emergency department, estimated to be 9,200-square-feet (which is more than three times the size of the current unit), would cost around $2.6 million.

Besides being too small, Martinez said that the hospital’s current emergency room suffers from inefficient design. The new department would be designed to eliminate hurdles to emergency department beds, create multifunctional treatment spaces to increase flexibility and build out alternative care settings to divert patients who do not require emergency care.

Residents will get a chance to vote on the issue on April 4.


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