Hospitals adding ER capacity as visits grow

FARGO - Sanford Medical Center opened seven new emergency rooms to keep up with patient volume, now more than double the capacity the center was designed to handle.

Revamping the emergency room

FARGO - Sanford Medical Center opened seven new emergency rooms to keep up with patient volume, now more than double the capacity the center was designed to handle.

The $1.7 million expansion and renovation has resulted in a more efficient suite of 27 emergency rooms to better handle almost 60,000 patient visits a year, administrators said.

"It's just a night and day difference," said Susan Jarvis, Sanford's vice president of emergency, trauma and critical care services. "It really is."

The expansion allowed the nursing station and supply storage to be centrally located, increasing efficiency. With seven more rooms, she said, physicians and nurses can see patients more quickly.

The project was needed because of growing patient volumes even though Sanford will open a new hospital in 2016, Jarvis said.


"We had to go ahead and do it," she said. "We were as frugal as possible. We're very pleased with it."

Before the expansion, Sanford's emergency department saw its last significant upgrade in the 1980s. The facility was designed to treat 25,000 patients a year and last year handled 57,000.

Sanford's emergency center is one of the busiest in the tri-state region, and sees almost twice as many patients as Sanford's hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D.

When Sanford's new Fargo medical center opens in four years, plans call for 51 emergency rooms, said Dennis Millirons, president of Sanford Medical Center in Fargo.

Before then, perhaps as early as 2014, Sanford hopes to obtain designation for the highest level of trauma care, a certification usually attained only by major metropolitan medical centers.

Sanford's level of care is already close to qualifying, Jarvis and Millirons said. To qualify as a Level I trauma center, a hospital emergency room must provide around-the-clock, year-round staffing with trauma surgeons and supporting specialists.

If successful in winning verification from the American College of Surgeons, "This is going to allow us to keep even the sickest patients in our community," Jarvis said, referring to trauma cases.

To date, there is no designated Level I trauma center in North Dakota, South Dakota or western Minnesota. The nearest is in the Twin Cities.


"Level I trauma centers save patients' lives every single day," Millirons said, noting that starting treatment during the first hour is vital in saving critically injured patients. "That's what Level I trauma centers are all about. They operate like a machine."

Meanwhile, over at Essentia Health, the 19-room emergency department also is experiencing an increase in visits and is planning to expand capacity.

"We're looking to do 32 to 35" emergency rooms, said Dr. Tyler Hamilton, Essentia's chairman of ambulatory services and physician director of emergency services.

"We've been talking about it for three years," he said, adding that Essentia's approach is gradual, "controlled growth."

"We're bursting at the seams," Hamilton said.

Notably, he said, Essentia is seeing more stroke patients, including those transported from places including Grand Forks; Aberdeen, S.D.; and Sauk Centre, Minn.

Essentia has strengthened its stroke treatment program with interventional neurologists and neurosurgeons.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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