By Linda Friedel, The Kansas City Nursing News

Joyce Willrett said she expected special treatment on a recent trip to the emergency department at Overland Park Regional Center.

Willrett learned she was the first patient in a new emergency department and joked with the staff that she expected to be treated like a queen. Willrett kept her sense of humor, but what took her to the ED was no laughing matter. She was dehydrated and her stomach hurt fiercely.

“They must have had four or five people in the room at the same time,” said Willrett of Overland Park, Kan. “I got a lot of attention. She (human resource employee) even came in and gave me a paperweight.”

It was 5:30 a.m. Willrett’s husband drove her to the “old” emergency department entrance where they had been before. He had a hard time finding parking with all the construction trucks in the way, she said. When he pulled up to let Willrett out, a staff member met them there and promptly wheeled Willrett to the new location. She became the first patient in Overland Park Regional Medical Center’s newly completed emergency and trauma center.

“We drive by all the time (and) didn’t know what the addition was going to be,” she said.

Willrett had been a patient in the former location and says the new unit has twice the amount of rooms. Each is a private room with a television, she said. Willrett said the department has its own MRI and CT scanners.

“It’s all right there,” she said. “The TV is great. They were great.”

OPRMC, part of HCA Midwest Health, held its grand opening ribbon-cutting and celebration for its newest tower two days before Willrett arrived on Aug. 21. The $110 million expansion includes a new three-story patient tower, an expanded ED and trauma center, a new parking garage, a new entrance and a bike-hike trail connecting Quivira Road to the Indian Creek trail system. From conception to opening it was four years in the making, said Kevin Hicks, president and CEO of OPRMC.

“It creates more space and comfort and more privacy for our patients and families and employee,” Hicks said. “Patients really want that. They expect that. They deserve it for the comfort and privacy. Privacy has become a big priority in our country in health care.”

The 36-year-old hospital has seen a steady growth of patient volume since HCA became its corporate sponsor in 2003, Hicks said. HCA expanded the hospital into new services such as the addition of a trauma unit, a specialty NICU and physician acquisition, Hicks said.

“These have been developments of the hospital under HCA that caused year after year growth,” he said. “We’ve just enjoyed some nice growth.”

Until the renovation that completed in August, Hicks said the hospital structure has seen minor renovations but nothing of the magnitude of the new tower. As the community has grown, so has the volume in the emergency department, he said. The ED and trauma center tripled in size, Hicks said. The expansion is a plus for employees, as well as patients and their families, he said.

“This will make it easier to take care of the patients we have,” Hicks said. “We have added additional support personnel. (It will) allow us to continue to grow and continue to grow our staff.”

Lacey Deardoff of Overland Park attended the grand opening ceremony on Aug. 19. Deardoff, a former trauma patient, said she was happy to join the celebration. Though she remembers nothing of her May 24 accident, she said she was thrilled to meet the people who were involved in her care.

“I wanted to give back to them,” Deardoff said. “Going to a ribbon-cutting is a small piece. I was so happy to get back there and be interviewed and see the amazing changes.”

Deardoff was admitted to OPRMC’s former trauma center. She was driving to work one morning when she was struck by a motorist. A vehicle had crashed into the median, and Deardoff got out to help.

“That’s when another van hit us,” she said. “It was raining. He was trying to avoid debris. He was trying to get around that. He didn’t see us (and) slammed on the brakes and fish-tailed and hit us.”

Deardoff woke up from her coma in the ICU. She asked her parents what had happened the night before and what she was doing in a hospital room.

“You wake up, your whole world is upside down,” she said. “Your whole family is around you. You are emotional. I wanted to go back to square one. What happened last night?”

Deardoff suffered multiple broken bones and facial damage. She remembers nothing of the accident that sent her to the trauma center, she said. She has been piecing events together since her accident in Overland Park and her rehabilitation in Hutchinson, Kan., where her family lives. She said going to the ribbon-cutting ceremony offered her an opportunity to thank the first responders and the doctors and nurses who saved her life. It was emotional and healing, she said.

“I am so curious about all the stuff I don’t remember,” Deardoff said. “(I) met the people that saved my life. It was more pieces of the puzzle I so desperately wanted to know. It was pretty emotional, but I really loved it.”

Deardoff plans to return to her work and life in Overland Park in November. After her ordeal, Deardoff says she is inspired to pursue a master’s degree in health administration, in part for the care she received. She works in pharmaceutical research at Quintiles in Overland Park.

“These people do this because they love what they do,” she said. “Without them I wouldn’t be here.”

Stacy Kelly, RN, MSN, APRN, charge nurse in the ED, helped to open the new patient tower and emergency department. Kelly served on a committee to determine supplies, equipment, patient flow and what was needed to be successful. It was rewarding to have a say in the process, she said.

“Lots of organizing, lots of planning,” Kelly said. “It was exciting. It was stressful at times.”

The staff is getting used to the new space, she said. It is larger compared to the former location. It has more beds, three dedicated trauma bays and its own CT scan and radiology equipment, she said. It is helpful to have dedicated scanners in the unit, she said. Patients do not have to travel as far within the hospital. Patients say they are impressed with how quickly they’ve had their care done, she said. They can receive their results faster.

“Patients like to be informed,” she said. “Since we have our own radiology staff in the ER, we know things are going to happen quicker.”

Because the space is larger, ED and trauma nurses have needed to become more independent, she said. The space is doubled, she said, but the staff has not. Nurses in the new ED and trauma center use headsets and walkie-talkies to communicate. They started practicing with their new head gear in the former location to get accustomed to the devices, she said.

“I love it,” Kelly said. “You don’t have to leave the room. You key up on your mic (microphone). ‘I am in room 17. I need assistance.’”

“Overall it’s just been a very positive experience” she said. “The community seems to be very happy that it’s there.”

The expansion also included 26 new patient rooms for the ortho/neuro trauma department, said Denise Katron, RN, BSN, CMSRN, director of the ortho/neuro trauma department. All of the new rooms are private and are larger to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, she said. They each have couches that convert into beds for family members wishing to spend the night.

“We want it to be patient-centered family care,” Katron said. “The whole unit is very open. There is a huge family/visitors waiting room.”

Nobody wants to go to the hospital, Katron said, but the new tower and entrance to the hospital are inviting with clean lines. There is a homier feel, she said. It gives employees more space to move around, nurses say. Katron said patients were transferred from the old tower to the new one on Aug. 22. One patient could not stop saying “wow,” she said. Nutrition units flank the end of each unit for families to grab a pick-me-up such as coffee, tea, juice, fruit, cereal and other snacks. Families don’t want to miss the doctors, she said.

“It’s more relaxing and it’s less scary. It looks a little more homey,” Katron said. “Now with that added space it makes a huge difference in their comfort level.”