Emergency department expansion slated for Harris Regional

Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva is planning an $18.45 million renovation project to expand and modernize the emergency department.

The current ER, built in 1989, simply isn’t big enough, according to Mark Leonard, the CEO of Harris. Leonard cited growth from retiring baby-boomers to the area, the influx of seasonal residents and the growth of Western Carolina University as factors contributing to ER overcrowding.

Physicians are excited about the project.

“I am thrilled about it. It is a very needed thing and we are looking forward to it,” said Jodi Shainberg, an ER physician at Harris. “We have such a growing population in this area.”

Harris has six full-time ER doctors, one part-time and two full-time nurse practitioners. Shainberg said the ER draws patients from places west of Sylva, like Robbinsville, Bryson City and Cherokee, but also from counties with ERs of their own, like Macon and Haywood.

The ER at Harris currently has nine beds. The new ER will include 16 treatment rooms, from general purpose rooms to cardiac/trauma and isolation rooms. The project also includes six observation rooms. These observation rooms will be for patients who have been treated, but aren’t quite ready to go home, freeing up the main ER beds.

In addition to more than doubling the number of beds, the expansion will also mean a larger nurses station and space to accommodate changing medical technology and equipment, Leonard said.

Another shortcoming with the current ER is the patient waiting area, a small cramped room with plastic chairs. The expansion will include a new waiting area for 64 people, and a triage waiting area for patients waiting to be seen with 12 seats.

The renovations will also include the addition of an X-ray room, so patients needing X-rays don’t have to be wheeled through the hospital to the current X-ray facilities located a good distance away from the ER, Leonard said.

Harris is run by WestCare, which also operates the hospital in Bryson City.

In addition to the ER expansion, the $18.45 million project will also create a new main entrance to the hospital, new elevators, and a new in-patient waiting area. There will be a total of 52,000 square feet of new construction, and 9,000 square feet of new covered canopies at various hospital entrances. The cost includes construction as well as all equipment and furniture.

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