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Cheshire Medical/Dartmouth to upgrade emergency department

Special to the Sunday News

August 23. 2014 6:04PM
With construction underway, shown above is a view of one of the future universal treatment rooms at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth Hitchcock Keene. (COURTESY)

Given the ever-increasing numbers and complex needs of patients coming into the emergency room, Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth Hitchcock Keene has launched a yearlong renovation of its emergency department.

According to hospital officials, the number of patients visiting the emergency room has increased from 20,000 to 25,000 a year in the past few years. Meanwhile, reductions in state funding for mental health services means that the emergency department is now serving more than 50 percent more mental health patients in crisis and for longer periods of time.

The expanded and updated emergency department is expected to have a better flow, be more accommodating to patients and safer for everyone. It also is expected to reduce stress for mental health patients, their families, caregivers and the other patients being treated in the emergency department.

"The ultimate goal is to provide high-quality, compassionate emergency care for Cheshire County amid a changing health care environment," said Amy Matthews, director of Cheshire Medical Center's Emergency Department. "Cheshire's (emergency department ) must be prepared to treat a wide range of illnesses and conditions.

"(This renovation) means that we are investing in our facility to support quality care. This commitment is important to our community and to the professionals who work here."

The renovation will include universal treatment rooms for all emergency room patients with the aim of providing improved patient privacy. It will also have improved space to care for behavioral health patients, Matthews said.

Previously, there was one dedicated behavioral health room that temporary changes allowed for two people, Matthews said. This project will provide capacity for two dedicated and two "swing" psychiatric-appropriate rooms, she said.

"The swing rooms can easily flex between traditional medical care and safety," Matthews said. "This will improve efficiency and safety by increasing the capacity to care for behavioral health patients.

"We are arranging the space to include space for staff and a large skylight, which provides a more natural day-night environment. The renovation also includes the addition of a safe bathroom with a shower that allows for better care in the instances when we are unable to decrease the overall length of stay."

Many of the new design features are intended to increase patient and staff safety, Matthews said. Previously, the Cheshire emergency department included 50 percent open bay style treatment spaces, a registration area segregated from the main emergency department- but very open to public spaces and waiting room - and lack of easy sight lines to the waiting room and ambulance entrance, Matthews said.

"The new design includes all private rooms that are more comforting, HIPAA-compliant and secure, the registration area is more centrally located, less open and the waiting room, and ambulance entrances are clearly visible to the main work station," Matthews said.

The design is also expected to accommodate enhanced technology, such as updated cardiac monitoring in all treatment rooms, creating a universal treatment room approach that decreases the need to move patients into a different space should their needs change, Matthews said. A new nurse-call system will be installed to identify where in the department various staff mat all times and to communicate patient needs more readily.

Matthews said the emergency department is still open during the renovation. The project is being done in phases so that newly renovated space is brought into use as they close down other areas for construction.

Renovations began earlier this year and will wrap up by spring 2015.

Health New Hampshire Keene