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Exclusive: Strong Memorial Plans to Expand Emergency Department

Patti Singer

The emergency department at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital is expected to get 31 more beds.
Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

The emergency department at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital, is about to get its first upgrade in two decades.

The $14.9 million expansion will convert approximately 17,000 square feet formerly used as a clinical laboratory adjacent to the current ED into 31 private rooms. The project is under review from the state Department of Health. Hospital officials would like to see the application fast-tracked, but even so it will take about 24 months before the new space is ready for patients.

UR Medicine will finance the project through internal reserves, borrowing and philanthropy.

Construction will not affect patient services.

“It’s not like redoing your kitchen while you’re trying to cook in it,” said Dr. Michael Kamali, chairman of emergency medicine at UR Medicine. “A lot of it will be separated, like if you’re putting an addition onto your house. Your main living space, you continue in and one day you open the door and there’s the addition and you start using it.”

Kamali said the goal of the expansion is to reduce wait times and serve patients more quickly with more comfort for them and for staff.

Here’s what to know about the plan and how it will affect patients.

Why is the renovation needed?

The last time the emergency department received attention was 2001, and that project was based on accommodating 65,000 patients a year. That projection was made before Genesee Hospital abruptly closed that year, shortly after Strong expanded the ED.

Over the past 10 years, Strong’s emergency department has had a 21% growth in patient use, according to the hospital’s application to the state. The ED serves people in the Finger Lakes region as well as being a major health care source for city residents. The ED is expected to handle 118,000 patient visits this fiscal year, according to the application.

By comparison, the Rochester General Hospital emergency department had 124,143 patient visits last year. RGH completed renovation of the emergency department in 2009.

Dr. Michael Kamali.
Provided photo

Kamali said the increased use at Strong’s ED is related to factors such as its status as a Level 1 trauma center that provides the highest level of care for complex cases, and advances in technology and medication that keep chronically patients alive longer but still needing emergency care when a crisis arises.

Kamali wasn’t able to say how many patients use the emergency department because they lack primary care, but what Rochester experiences is comparable to urban areas elsewhere in the country.

“I think primary care is also bursting at the seams as well,” he said. “They’re trying to manage many, many patients. The ED becomes an area running 24/7 with a lot of expertise, lot of testing available that people tend to trust and utilize.”

As for people coming to the emergency department with minor issues, Kamali said that staff can’t know someone’s chest pain is a muscle pull until heart issues have been ruled out.

How big is the emergency department now?

The ED has about 100 beds. During flu season and other times of high demand, patients are seen in chairs and in the hallway. Plus, existing beds are not in private rooms. The 31 private beds are about a 30% increase in the total number of beds. Once the lab is converted, the ED space will be about 40% larger.

Why do this now?

“Space has always been on the wish list,” Kamali said.
The opportunity presented itself when a lot of the clinical lab services were going to move to a facility on Bailey Road in Henrietta. The lab was right behind the ED, so Kamali said it made sense to expand to that area.

A wall separates the lab from the ED, so construction will be self-contained and not affect day-to-day services.

Why 31 beds?

Kamali said the plan initially called for 32 beds. But the need for some rooms to be larger to accommodate sicker patients needing more care, for enough space so doctors and nurses could work together and the desire to have a place to talk with families led the final plan to settle on 31.

What’s next?

Even with the lab starting to empty, Strong has to wait for state approval before they can do more than look wistfully at the space that will be added to the emergency department.

“From my standpoint, it’s much needed,” Kamali said. “The time is the time. I’m really confident we put good plans in place for patients and staff. I’m excited to see it in real life.”