Thursday, July 28, 2005

Necessary medicine - VacaValley to expand its ER

Necessary medicine - VacaValley to expand its ER

By Julie Kay/Staff Writer

Activity around the nurses station at the VacaValley Hospital ER busles during a recent day shift. The hospital held a groundbreaking Tuesday for an ER expansion, set to begin within a month. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

A tenuous calm hovered over NorthBay's VacaValley Hospital's nearly full emergency room at midday Tuesday. A child with an earache lay in one of seven patient spots. A patient with a pulmonary embolism lay in another.

Suddenly, paramedics wheeled in a man whose heart had stopped. A man gasping for breath followed soon after. Then four people hurt in a car crash arrived by ambulance. Within minutes, the staff was reassigning beds like musical chairs.

"We've been known to have a patient here, a patient there, one in every possible space," said lead nurse Heather Venezio, gesturing about the room.
But all of that is about to change.

Construction begins on the non-profit hospital's new emergency department next month. The facility will be three times the size of the current one, and will feature technology including electronic bedside registration and imaging capabilities.

Outside the hospital, staff and friends gathered in the parking lot for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the expansion.

A group of them plunged blue-handled shovels with gold spades into a pile of dirt deposited in front of the hospital.

"Since 1987, the hospital has nearly doubled its use," said Mayor Len Augustine, one of the speakers at the event. "It's about time for the change to take place."
With Vacaville's population skyrocketing since the hospital was built in 1987, the emergency department deals with constant overcrowding, said Joel Kahn, one of the hospital's emergency room physicians.

"I see patients in gurneys in the hallways," said Kahn. "Waiting times are increasingly long."
Sometimes the wait is so long that patients simply give up, said emergency room physician
Lance Gough. He recalled a young boy who recently came to the emergency room with his grandparents, having hurt his wrist.

Staff took X-rays, then sent him back to the waiting room while they treated patients with more urgent needs. After several hours, the grandparents decided not to wait any more and took the boy home.

When Gough looked at the X-rays, he found the boy's wrist was broken.
"This time we had a good outcome," said Gough, who called the boy's mother and had him brought back in.

But in other cases where patients' ailments are more serious, said Gough, returning home can be a dangerous - even deadly - decision.

The emergency room's lack of space also causes privacy issues, said Kahn.
"Often, patients can hear and see what's happening to their neighbor," he said.

The expansion, which will be designed by BFHL Architects and built by DPR Construction, will be funded in part by a $500,000 donation from Genentech. The NorthBay Healthcare boards, senior managers, and NorthBay Guild provided an additional $500,000.

"It's long overdue, both for us, and for the community," said Kahn of the expansion.
Construction is expected to be complete on the new emergency room in late 2006.

Julie Kay can be reached at

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