Northwest Medical Center's Emergency Department recently completed an extensive expansion and renovation that hospital staff said will offer care in a more private and patient-friendly environment.

Northwest's ED is one of the busiest in Tucson, according to Joseph Akif, RN, director of the department. It treated more than 54,000 patients in 2008. When patients seen at Northwest's three urgent care centers — at Ina and Shannon roads, at Continental Reserve in Marana, and at La Paloma on Sunrise Drive — are added to those seen in the ED, the total tops 120,000 patients annually.

The new emergency department has 57 beds, most of them in private rooms, including a Fast Track area to accommodate low- to high-acuity patients, six beds for behavioral health patients and a 12-bed clinical decision unit to rule out chest pain and other heart diagnoses.

The ED has a dedicated CT scanner for faster imaging and results turnaround, a digital S-ray, and cardiac monitoring in every room.

Akif said while the public is more familiar with the term "ER," (emergency room), ED is essentially the same thing. He pointed out that Northwest Medical Center is on the cutting edge of handling various types of acute care patients in its ED.

"A lot of hospitals are segmenting populations in the ED now, which is a strategy to take lower acute patients and put them adjacent areas to the ED," he said.

That strategy is reflected in the Fast Track area, usually open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., but with extended hours as needed by the influx of patients into the ED, as well as in the clinical decision unit and the behavioral health areas.

"With the renovation of the ED, we're able to provide a more confidential and private environment for patients," Akif said. "We don't want patients in hallways because privacy leads to a better healing process."

The new clinical decision unit is used where patients need observation for less than 24 hours to rule out certain diagnoses — meaning they won't have to be admitted to an in-patient bed.

Akif said the emergency department is still in its prior location within the Medical Center, but it has had a complete renovation, both inside the patient areas and outside in the reception room and check-in area. In addition to the renovation, the six beds in the behavioral health unit were added, as was the 5,000 square foot addition to house the Fast Track unit.

"We went from stem to stern and redid everything in the ED, and once the Fast Track unit was finished, we renovated the old area into the behavioral health area," Akif said. "We replaced floors, patched, painted, changed work spaces for nurses and staff for more a centralized area to care for patients and put in new equipment. We did this all while the ED remained open."

In the lobby, the changes to the reception area are noticeable, with tile flooring and four comfortable, yet private seating areas and two large screen televisions.

"The reception area is still watched and monitored by an RN at all times, " Akif said. "We do that 24/7. We also want to take the feedback we get from patients and put it into play wherever possible. The response from patients has been wonderful."

The biggest change to the reception area is the space that greets patients when they first come into the ED, Akif said.

"Instead of the old wall of glass where patients had to talk through a hole in the glass, we now have an open reception desk which is a much more inviting environment. Patients get to speak to someone face-to face now, and they're greeted by a volunteer, a patient registration staff member and a member of the ED clinical staff."

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