Schenectady County

Ellis prepares to unveil expanded ER

In 47 days, Ellis Medicine will open its new emergency room — part of it, at least.
Donald McLaughlin, vice president of facility and support services for Ellis Medicine gives a tour while work continues on the new Emergency Department at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady on Thursday.
Donald McLaughlin, vice president of facility and support services for Ellis Medicine gives a tour while work continues on the new Emergency Department at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady on Thursday.

At a glance

2013 ER visits:

Ellis Hospital (Nott Street): 50,550

Ellis Health Center (McClellan Street): 32,460

Medical Center of Clifton Park: 29,338

Total: 112,348

2014 ER visits through May

Ellis Hospital: 21,154

Ellis Health Center: 13,376

Medical Center of Clifton Park: 14,160

Total: 48,690

In 47 days, Ellis Medicine will open its new emergency room — part of it, at least.

The entire emergency room expansion project won’t be complete until next year, but the addition crews have been so busy building is on track for completion by Aug. 6. On that day, ER staff and patients will vacate the existing, cramped emergency department and move over to the new space so the existing space can be gutted and renovated. That project should take about six months and finish by January 2015, marking the end of an ambitious expansion that broke ground in October 2012.

“Right now, the staff is on top of each other. It’s congested. It’s frenzied,” said Don McLaughlin, Jr., vice president of facilities and support services for Ellis Medicine. “We’ve had them on a million tours of this new space as it’s finishing up, and it’ll feel like they’ll need roller skates.”

It’s not just that the current emergency department is a bit small; the design is inefficient, as well, he said. Patient rooms are in four separated areas. Some are private rooms. Some are just open cubicles. Staff finds the layout cramped and not conducive to efficient communication among nurses, doctors and other staff.

“This will be a much better patient care environment: quieter, less chaotic, a lot less noise,” McLaughlin said. “It will give people proper work space and charting space and privacy to do dictation, and just the whole din goes way down.”

Once complete, the entire emergency department will measure 38,000 square feet — double what it is now. It wasn’t enough just to add more space, though; crews will gut the existing ER to bare bones and build a space that’s a mirror of the addition’s efficient new layout.

“It’s a total strip it right down to the bare walls gut out,” McLaughlin said. “Not one wall that’s in there is staying.”

There will be 60 rooms in all, up from the existing 47. They will all be private rooms, featuring flat-screen TVs and cardiac-monitoring gear, which fan out from a main nursing station along an open corridor. There will be five nursing stations in all, including one near the main entrance where staff will try to reduce long wait times by fast-tracking minor cases through the system.

On Thursday, McLaughlin gave The Daily Gazette a tour of the nearly finished addition to the emergency department. The main structure is up, along with wallboards, roofs and floors. Some wires still need to be embedded. Plastic wrap is still on doors and equipment. Lights work in some parts of the addition but not in others. A few construction workers were wrapping up work for the day.

General Electric employees were installing GE X-ray equipment in two new radiography rooms. A new CT scanner will be installed in another room Monday. Three triage rooms were freshly painted near reception, along with a corridor full of patient rooms. Crisis units were set up with safety features for patients with behavioral or mental health issues.

“What we have left is really just installation of equipment and finishing up the details,” McLaughlin said as he walked through the new space.

Ellis Medicine was aiming to get the new space open in July, but there were some minor delays with material and equipment that pushed the opening date back.

Even though the addition is slated to open Aug. 6, patients will still need to enter the ER through the Nott Street entrance and parking garage. A new four-story parking garage on Rosa Road will start to go up June 30 and should be done by mid-November. It will accommodate 390 cars.

“The garage is being pre-cast,” McLaughlin said. “It’s all cast off-site and will be erected with a huge crane that’s going to sit right at our new ambulance entry point. The whole pavement area will be concrete, with heat coils to melt the snow so we don’t have to salt or plow or have people tripping and falling as they’re trying to wheel people in. It’s a real big safety thing for us.”

The new ambulance bay can be built once the garage in place is done and the cranes removed. That should be about mid-October. The new bay will be larger — accommodating an ambulance stack of about 10 as opposed to the current three.

McLaughlin’s favorite part of the new space is not the floor-to-ceiling windows in the entryway or the modern look of the new layout. It’s an 80-foot-long, 10-foot-wide electrical switchboard that sits in the basement and will power the entire hospital campus once all the work is complete.

“The whole piece of infrastructure represents about $6 million of the whole project,” he said. “But the old electrical switch gear was very old. It was, quite frankly, unreliable. You couldn’t properly maintain it. So it’s real big safety issue for us to have the whole electrical infrastructure upgraded. I mean, even your average door these days has access control and is tied to a fire alarm system and ID badges so staff can wave their way in. Your average door is now complicated.”

The overall project cost is about $61 million. Construction accounts for $41 million, with new equipment running upward of $6 million. There are also architectural and legal costs. Local philanthropists Jane and Neil Golub contributed so much to the project the new ER will bear their name.

Once the expansion is complete, Ellis Medicine’s emergency department on McClellan Street will close and patients and staff will be moved to the bigger space on Nott Street, which should accommodate 90,000 visits a year, compared with 50,550 visits last year.

It will mark the end of the last major component of Ellis Medicine’s restructuring brought about by the Berger Commission — a 2007 mandate from the state that hospitals and nursing homes cut excess beds, eliminate duplication of services, modernize facilities and provide more primary and preventive care. In Schenectady County, three hospitals were unified under the umbrella of Ellis Medicine.

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