The need for a newer, bigger facility has been a longstanding reality in Sylva, and after Duke LifePoint purchased the hospital last year, the company listed the project as one of the $43 million worth of investment it pledged at Harris and Swain Community hospitals upon buying them.
Now, the money for the $11 million project has officially been allocated. Construction will likely start by October, with a project finish date somewhere between August and October 2016.
“It’s really an anchor service here with emergency services,” said Lucretia Stargell, spokesperson for Harris. “Emergency departments are a really big focus throughout LifePoint hospitals, so we’re excited to be a part of it.”
The existing emergency department, which houses 13 beds, was built in the 1980s when patient volume was about 40 percent less than it is now.
“It’s definitely time,” Stargell said.
And it has been time for quite a while. Harris has had a new emergency department in its plans for nearly a decade, but until now there was no funding to build it.
The new emergency department will feature 16,000 square feet of space with 23 beds, the new wing to be located on the right side of the hospital lobby. Of those beds, 14 will be for acute care and four will be for patients waiting on psychiatric care. The remaining five will be “fast-track” beds, beds where medical staff can monitor patients with less acute conditions, freeing up the acute beds for those who require them.
“The main thing in the emergency department is going to be efficiency, how quickly people are being seen and reducing the wait time and really just providing excellent service to patients,” Stargell said. “That’s something that the new space is really going to enable.”
Stargell said the hospital has not yet determined if it will hire more staff to further reduce wait times in the new space. Right now, she said, the main thing is getting the space built.
“This is going to be the kind of emergency department that the community deserves,” she said.
The hospital has not decided, either, what will happen to the area where the existing emergency department operates — it’s something they’re “still talking about,” Stargell said.
The new emergency wing won’t be the only improvement coming to Harris Regional. Duke LifePoint had also committed to building a new mother-baby unit, a $3.5 million project. The first phase of the project — a labor and delivery unit — was finished before LifePoint bought the hospital using donations gathered from more than two years of fundraising.
The money to finish the facility, dubbed the New Generations Family Birthing Center, has not yet been officially allocated, but Stargell expects the funding to come soon.
“I think that would probably be within the year,” she said.
She also expects to hear about funding for a re-opened operating room at Swain Community Hospital before 2015 is over. Though not part of the official asset purchase agreement with Duke LifePoint, the $1.2 million renovation has been planned on. The operating room, which used to provide outpatient surgeries in Bryson City, has been closed for about three years. Stargell said she’s seen staunch community support for reopening it.
“We’ve gotten a lot of really great support and feedback from people we’ve spoken with in the Swain community,” she said.
Duke LifePoint has already gotten started on its investment commitment to the hospitals, Stargell said, purchasing new equipment, beautifying the hospital and giving employees raises where a salary assessment deemed they were due. But the release of funding for the emergency department and likelihood that completing a new birthing wing is on the horizon are worthy of celebration.
“These two projects are cornerstones of that commitment (by Duke LifePoint), and we are excited to get started on them,” she said.