The tile floors, granite countertops and pillared entryway are more reminiscent of a villa than a hospital. Then there’s the whiz-bang technology.
Computers keep tabs on patients and replace virtually every piece of paper in the $20 million facility. Even the pharmacy is computerized, automatically checking for allergies, drug interactions and appropriate dosage for the patient’s age and weight before dispensing the drugs with the touch of a button.
But easily the most notable feature of the new Gilbert
Emergency Hospital is the claim that patients will be seen by a doctor within 30 minutes of walking in the door.
Set to open Tuesday or Wednesday, pending inspection by state health regulators, the Power Road hospital is expected to ease overcrowding in East Valley emergency rooms and give patients an alternative to 12-plus hour waits.
“In Gilbert, there is an overwhelming need for emergency services,” said Dr. Tim Johns, an emergency room physician and medical director of the for-profit hospital. “Something needs to be done to get a jump on the 50,000 south East Valley residents moving here each year.”
Explosive growth and a nasty flu season have packed emergency rooms this winter and led Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa to take the unprecedented step of closing its doors for a few hours on New Year’s Day.
That triggered a federal investigation, but it didn’t necessarily surprise emergency health care workers who have seen a crisis growing for years.
“We’re teetering on the brink daily,” said Roy Ryals, senior vice president and director of emergency medical services for Southwest Ambulance. “I’m not optimistic enough to believe it’s going to solve our problems. But it’s certainly going to help.”
Gilbert Emergency Hospital has a 57-bed capacity, but just six in-patient beds. The vast majority of patients will be treated and released, or stabilized and admitted to other Valley hospitals. The facility is built to serve 60,000 patients in its first year, with room for expansion.
“We don’t see other hospitals as competition,” said Johns, former ER medical director and chief of staff at Chandler Regional Hospital. “We see other hospitals as partners.”
He estimated that just 6 percent of patients would need to be transferred.
Johns, a primary investor, borrowed practices from other U.S. hospitals in hope of making his facility a model of patient-centered efficiency.
For starters, patients won’t be put through a “financial strip search” before they can be seen, he said. Admissions paperwork will be done by roving employees as patients move from triage to the exam room, into X-ray or wherever they need to be. The idea is to get sick or injured people in front of a doctor as soon as possible.
“It became painful to walk into a room and say, ‘I’m sorry you’ve been waiting for 12 hours,’ ” he said. “We should be happy that patients are coming here and meet their needs.”
Each physician will be accompanied by a medical scribe. “We want physicians talking to patients and not spending time working on computers,” he said.
The hospital will strive to have one health care worker for every two patients, compared to the typical 1-to-4 ratio.
Radiology equipment also can be used for scheduled appointments 24 hours a day, seven days a week, provided an emergency patient doesn’t need it first. So someone who works the night shift could schedule a mammogram at 3 a.m.
Chandler Regional Hospital CEO David Covert said he welcomes the competition. His hospital two years ago doubled the size of its ER and added 62 beds, but still runs at or over capacity most days.
“Every morning at 6 a.m. we’ve had at least 15 more patients in-house than we have licensed beds,” Covert said. “To the extent that Gilbert Emergency Hospital can take the load off other hospitals, it’ll be a very good thing for the community.”