By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Navigating the emergency department at a hospital can seem overwhelming in a time of crisis. Forms seem like a foreign language and the term waiting room takes on a whole new meaning as you advocate for a loved one struggling with a serious illness, injury, or incapacitation. Add a massive construction project and a relocated waiting and registration area to the chaos and the caregiver may start to need some emergency care of their own.
This scenario could happen on any given night at Kaweah Delta Medical Center’s Emergency Department (ED), fortunately there is someone who can help. The Visalia hospital recently announced the hiring of a new position called a patient navigator. In addition to answering questions and helping patients understand the process of care in the ED, the patient navigator, a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) can also monitor patient vital signs. Kaweah Delta has also made changes to ensure that after patients are seen by a registered nurse upon arrival and have vitals taken by an ED technician, they are seen by a doctor within 30 minutes of arrival, so that if any tests are needed, they can be ordered.
“This individual is an extremely important addition,” said Dan Allain, assistant chief nursing officer for Kaweah Delta. “They will help bridge the communication gap when we are busy.”
Allain said the new position is just the latest attempt by Kaweah Delta to improve patient experience at the ED. On Feb. 27, the newly formed Emergency Department Advisory Council held its first meeting with the goal of enhancing patient experience at one of the busiest emergency departments in the state.
The following 14 people were selected to sit on the council: Phil Bourdette, Guy Christian, Susan Delgado, Laurie Diamant, Sean Doyle, Rick Eastes, Kathy Johnston, Ravi Kumar, M.D., Christine Moore, Belva Peden, Monica Peterson, Gailerd Swisegood, Ann Tonini, and Thomas Wright. Members will attend a monthly 90-minute meeting with several Kaweah Delta staff members, and will serve a two-year term.
This new council is modeled after the hospital’s Patient and Family Advisory Council. Created in 2017, this group of patients and their family members work with healthcare providers to improve patient experiences.
“Regular feedback from the community is important because it helps us improve,” said Deborah Volosin, Director of Community Engagement at Kaweah Delta. “This new council will create a dialogue and help us gather ideas so that we can continually improve programs and policies to address healthcare challenges and enhance the experience of our Emergency Department patients and visitors.”
The new position and advisory council are important pieces as Kaweah Delta undergoes a multi-phase expansion expected to double the size of the ED by 2021. Kaweah Delta had to temporarily relocate its ED waiting and registration area beginning March 14 to keep patients clear of construction in the floors above. For the next four to five months, people seeking care at Kaweah Delta’s Emergency Department, will enter the hospital’s main entrance at 400 W. Mineral King Ave., Visalia. Just inside the Mineral King Lobby, will be the temporary Emergency Department waiting and registration area. In addition to registration, it will offer an area for staff to take patient vitals, along with expanded seating.
The project will modernize, expand and improve Kaweah Delta’s ED facilities by nearly doubling patient beds from 41 to 74, doubling the size of the waiting room to accommodate over 100 patients, and adding a new area that will allow patients to be more quickly screened. Allain said an additional 17 beds should become available sometime this fall. The largest segment of new patient beds, a 24-bed section, will be complete in spring 2021.
“We are currently using recliners in the hallways to offer 45 treatment centers,” Allain said. “When these projects are completed the recliners will go away.”
Once complete, the project will allow Kaweah Delta to see 130,000 patient visits per year. Kaweah Delta is already one of the busiest EDs in the state seeing more than 90,000 patients per year in a space designed for 72,000 per year. Allain said Kaweah Delta has seen a slight decrease in the number of patients visiting the ED per day since Tulare Regional Medical Center reopened its emergency department in October.
“It’s not a huge shift but definitely a blessing to have another access point,” Allain said.
In April, patients should have an easier time finding parking space as well. Allain said Kaweah Delta is on track to pave and stripe two new parking lots northwest of the Acequia Wing providing an additional 80 parking spaces by the end of next month.
In February, Kaweah Delta demolished two buildings, both once used as fast food restaurants Checkers and Doc’s, to make way for patient and visitor parking. The restaurants were purchased by Kaweah Delta in 2012 and 2013.
“As we work hard to modernize, expand and improve facilities, our parking spaces are at a premium. This is just one of the solutions that will help patients and visitors find parking closer to our Medical Center,” said Gary Herbst, Chief Executive Officer of Kaweah Delta.
Additionally in April, construction on the fifth and sixth floors of the Acequia Wing is expected to be complete, opening up the remaining 30 patient and visitor parking spots in the lot west of the Medical Center’s Acequia Wing. Currently those spots are in use by construction equipment as Kaweah Delta increases the medical center’s inpatient bed capacity with the addition of a 24-bed intermediate critical care unit on the fifth floor. The sixth floor will provide the community with a new 23-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that will offer patients private rooms. The fifth and sixth floors were left unfinished when the Acequia Wing was completed in 2009, to provide for the flexibility of future expansion.