Kaweah Delta Medical Center gave a sneak preview of its new emergency department expansion Tuesday. Photo by Kaweah Delta
Written by Breanna Hardy
Officials at Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia know firsthand that overcrowded emergency departments have caused extensive wait times and a disconnect in care. But a new 38,400-square-foot emergency department expansion will help meet patient demand in Tulare County.
“You know, this has probably been one of the most important expansions that we’ve done in a very long time,” Gary Herbst, CEO of Kaweah Delta said. “Emergency care is what’s first and foremost what the community expects. It’s also probably been the most frustrating for the community because it’s been so overcrowded.”
Kaweah Delta has undergone expansion projects since 2018 to meet the medical demand.
The emergency department was first built with zones one, two and three.
The hospital started expanding in 2018 with zone six, four and now five — a $32.8 million project slated for opening this month.
Patients in the waiting room prior to the 41-bed expansion would wait long hours and get vitals taken in the waiting room because there are not enough exam rooms.
“Taking care of patients in the waiting room is not what we want to do,” Herbst said.
New designated phlebotomy rooms will alleviate that problem. In some cases, patients are placed back in the waiting room after nurses take vitals, but having blood work results streamlines patient care and staff workflow.
The waiting room has a 100-person capacity, high-security entrance and flat screen patient status boards to provide real-time updates and patient queue information. Three triage rooms are included in the facility, which helps streamline the waiting process.
“Now with having a larger area to triage, we’re able to stabilize them here and then take them to the appropriate areas,” said Billy Walker, nurse manager for the emergency department.
The new waiting room will operate with an emergency department technician who can help monitor patients waiting to see a doctor.
Kaweah Delta is a level three trauma center, and sees approximately 90,000 patients per year. The original structure of the hospital was built for 36,000 patients. The zone five expansion has added 41 beds, 24 of which are dedicated to exam rooms. It also includes nine beds for behavioral health, eight beds for critical care and an eight-bed area for patients with minor illnesses or injuries.
Having added three zones to the emergency department just since 2018 has been both exciting and challenging.
“Obviously we’re balancing the financial constraints because we paid for this all ourselves, and we can only do so much at a time,” Herbst said.
The project was partially funded by proceeds from the $100 million revenue bonds that Kaweah Delta Health Care District sold in 2015. Kaweah Delta will repay principal and interest to bond holders from revenues received.
But the goal of expansion is to reduce emergency room visits by opening clinics and urgent care centers so that true medical emergencies come to the department.
Keeping and attracting a workforce will also help with the expansion. Herbst said that people want to work in a state-of-the-art environment, and the new zone five will fit that mold.
The expansion was built on the grounds of the former Visalia Municipal Hospital, which opened in 1936 and was demolished in 1969.
“We do honor the history. We honor our past, the people that came before us, you know, the pioneers that created the Visalia Municipal Hospital,” said Herbst.
Kaweah Delta expects to take its first patient as soon as The Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development inspects the new zone five, which could be as early as next Monday.
Herbst said he feels a sense of fulfillment and excitement.
“This has been long-awaited — by us and by the community,” he said.