(Carrollton, GA) – After about two years of construction and another five months of renovations, the new emergency department at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton took its first patients Thursday morning.
Marlene Bilyeu, a resident of Sunset Hills in Carrollton, was the first patient to arrive in the new emergency department, arriving at 7:01 a.m., about a minute after the doors for the new unit were unlocked.
“We didn’t think we were going to be the first patients in the new emergency department, but we thought we’d probably be the last ones in the old one,” said her friend of 30 years, Karen Terry, who brought Bilyeu to the emergency department.
Bilyeu has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, but an intense headache gave her loved ones cause for concern since it seemed unrelated to her breathing condition. Tanner Security and a patient advocate greeted Bilyeu and Terry at the door of the new emergency department and escorted them in.
After a short registration process, Bilyeu was taken straight back to the new unit. A crowd of emergency department staff filling the corridor smiled and parted as Bilyeu’s wheelchair was rolled through to Exam Room 4, just in front of the nurses station.
“Everything is really nice,” said Bilyeu, who moved to Carrollton from Knoxville two years ago. “Everyone’s been really nice. They’ve always been nice every time I’ve come here.”
The time to celebrate the official opening of the new emergency department was short; by 7:07 a.m., a second patient had arrived, and by 7:12 a.m., the unit was caring for three patients.
Abby Burke, a nurse tech, places an oxygen sensor on the finger of Carrollton resident Marlene Bilyeu—the first patient for Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton’s new emergency department—while Tanner patient advocate Sharon Loftin assists with the wheelchair.
And so it began.
Fortunately, the new unit is well equipped to handle the flow of patients. With 40 beds and about 35,000 square feet of space, the new unit features twice the beds and three times the space of Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton’s former emergency department.
The department also features on-unit diagnostic imaging services, including digital X-rays, ultrasound and computed tomography (CT) scans—which is fortunate, because that was just the scan Tom Fitzgerald, MD, a board-certified emergency physician with Carrollton Emergency Physicians and medical operations leader for the new emergency department, determined Bilyeu would need.
With the scans performed on the unit, rather than having to move the patient to the hospital’s diagnostic imaging department, physicians receive results faster, expediting diagnoses and treatment.
The new unit is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and staffed with a team of board-certified emergency physicians. Among the 40 beds available on the unit are four trauma rooms, and each room has been designed to allow for treating a wide range of conditions.
Originally scheduled to begin serving patients in September 2012, the opening of the new emergency department was pushed back to February 2013 after a fire suppression line in the new space ruptured, spilling more than 12,000 gallons of water into the unit. The resulting damage required months of renovation, including replacing drywall, flooring, patient beds and more. The hospital’s former emergency department continued to serve patients while crews renovated the new space. Almost 2,000 area residents toured the new emergency department and the hospital’s expanded surgical services unit during an open house in January.
In the minutes before the emergency department officially opened at 7 a.m., the unit was already a hive of activity. Tanner Information Technology staff ran last tests of systems. Tanner Security officers stationed themselves at the applicable entrances and walked the new unit. Emergency department staff booted up computers and refreshed themselves on how to use the new phone system on the unit. Staff from Tanner’s Engineering Department switched out signage and pulled the canvas from the new emergency department ambulance entrance, redirecting emergency traffic to the new unit.
When Bilyeu arrived—and every patient thereafter—all systems were go. And so they will remain.