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Hospital work being studied

Chuck Biedka
| Tuesday, April 5, 2005

An expansion of the emergency department at Allegheny Valley Hospital is under consideration, but it won't happen this year.

Cindy K. Schamp, the hospital's president and chief executive officer, said a study of the area's emergency room needs won't be completed until after this summer. Formal plans then would be drawn up and the project sent out for bid.

The improvements would be completed about 18 months after contracts are awarded.

That would push the expansion into 2007.

Thus far, the hospital's parent company, West Penn-Allegheny Health System, hasn't given final authorization for the project and it's unclear how much the system will pay toward the expansion and how much hospital patrons will pay.

Those answers aren't needed until after the needs study is completed, managers said.

When the hospital merged with the then-Citizens General Hospital in New Kensington five years ago, officials said the Allegheny Valley emergency room expansion could cost about $1 million.

"That would be a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage," said Dr. Jerry Taylor, the department's medical director.

The improvements needed to serve the community for at least 15 years will cost more than $6 million, Schamp said.

Schamp said the center is serious about expanding the emergency department. At least 60 percent of emergency room patients become hospital inpatients, and that's vitally important to the center, she said.

For years, patients have complained of long waits to be treated in the AVH emergency room.

Schamp said that in the two years she has directed the hospital, steps have been taken to reduce patient waiting in the 12-bay emergency department, which treats about 31,000 patients annually. Another 14,000 patients are treated in the Citizens Ambulatory Care Center in New Kensington.

Officials said the AVH emergency room averaged 2,623 patients per month in 2004, up from 2,531 in 2003. Ambulances had to be diverted to another emergency room 1.5 hours per month in 2004, down substantially from 23 hours per month in 2003, according to hospital statistics.

Schamp said a physicians group contract provides more doctors for more hours in the AVH emergency department. That's important because more doctors on duty means quicker treatment, she said.

Taylor said the triage process, which rates the seriousness of an illness or injury, has been streamlined. Bedside registration and faster lab reports also have reduced waiting time.

A year-old "fast track" program seeks to treat and discharge patients with minor injuries or ailments within 60 minutes. In 2004, the fast track unit had an average length of stay of 79 minutes, said hospital Vice President Michael Harlovic.

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