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Harrisburg Hospital emergency department renovations on track

More than halfway through a major renovation of Harrisburg Hospital’s emergency department, the project is moving along as expected, according to those involved.

More than halfway through a major renovation of Harrisburg Hospital‘s emergency department, the project is moving along as expected, according to those involved.

“It’s a complicated project,” said Dr. Lewis Shaw, chairman of emergency medicine for PinnacleHealth System, which owns the hospital. “The entire existing emergency department is being renovated, and additional sections are being added.”

One challenge is keeping the doors open during the renovations.

“Obviously, we can’t just close the emergency department for a couple of years while construction is happening,” Shaw said. “So we’ve had to go section by section.”

Planning for the expansion began in 2005, and construction began in 2008.

Francis Cauffman of Philadelphia is the architect, and R.T. Reynolds Inc. of Harrisburg is the construction manager.

“We are on pace to be substantially complete by the April 2011 target,” Rick Dishong, project manager for Reynolds, said. “Three of the major phases are complete, and four are under way.”

A mild winter in 2008-09 helped to keep the addition moving, Dishong said. All outside construction was completed last October, so this season’s snowfalls haven’t affected the project, he said.

The $28 million project will result in a 36,500-square-foot department capable of treating up to 100,000 patients per year. Until now, the department had a maximum capacity of 41,000.

While the hospital is more than doubling its capacity, Shaw emphasized that it is designed to accommodate patient volume a generation from now.

“We don’t expect to reach those numbers immediately upon opening,” Shaw said. “If we did, then I didn’t do my job correctly.”

Staffing levels will increase as needed when the patient census increases.

Like any major endeavor, some surprises have occurred during the process. During demolition in the administration area, workers discovered two support columns that hadn’t been included in drawings.

“It wasn’t a major setback, but we did have to go back and rethink our plans a bit,” Shaw said.

Project planners used staff input, toured other hospitals’ emergency departments around the country, and considered patient feedback.

All of the 51 planned treatment rooms will be private, as well as more efficiently and consistently laid out, Shaw said.

“Working within the constraints of the old building, we can’t make each room exactly the same, but they are as close as possible,” he said.

Storing equipment and medications in the same place in each room saves time during treatment. Attention also was paid to acoustics to create a quieter environment, lighting and a triage area that is closer to the treatment areas. A more efficient workflow should mean shorter waiting times for patients, as well.

Each treatment room also will contain a universal litter that provides a more flexible and comfortable bed for patients.

Still to come will be a transition to a comprehensive information system that will allow the facility to use all-electronic documentation, Shaw said.

The greatest challenge for Shaw is managing and reacting to changes as needed. As an emergency physician, he is used to some setbacks, such as when a patient’s condition is getting better but then takes a turn for the worse.

“But we also have to be aware of the budget, so sometimes compromises need to be made,” he said.

While the process is challenging, Shaw believes the end result will be worth the temporary inconvenience.

“It will be better for the patients and for the staff, and that is what’s most important,” he said.

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