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White River Medical Center renovates emergency department

by Syd Hayman | October 13, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
Gary Bebow, CEO of White River Medical Center, stands in front of the center’s renovated emergency department, which is expected to open this month. The department now includes a covered driveway, two trauma rooms, a family consultation room and more.

— To better treat a larger volume of patients, White River Medical Center in Batesville is completing construction on a new emergency department.

The department, which was a $5 million project to renovate, is expected to open in mid to late October.

“This project is an integral part of our relationship with the community,” said Gary Bebow, CEO of White River Medical Center. “Hospitals’ relationships with the community start with the emergency room. It’s the first impression the community has. We’ll have one of the finest facilities in the state in terms of taking care of patients in need of emergency care.”

The renovated emergency department will be 15,000 square feet — a 5,000-square-foot expansion — and will include two trauma rooms with technology to treat strokes and other traumas; an isolation room with outside access to a decontamination shower; a family consultation area; a physician conference area; and a covered entryway. Previously,

the hospital had one trauma room that was equipped to care for one patient; now the medical center will be able to treat three patients in its two trauma rooms.

Sara Parker, director of emergency services at the medical center, said the best part of working in the department is using skills and knowledge to save lives and comfort patients.

“The most challenging aspect occurs when patient arrivals exceed the staff’s ability to keep up or exceeds room availability, and patients experience a delay in care,” she said via email. “The staff at the WRMC [emergency department] work hard to minimize such inconveniences.”

In the past year, the department had 29,000 emergency-room visits. The new department will be equipped to handle 35,000 visits per year.

“The existing emergency room, prior to this expansion, was expected to handle 20,000 visits a year,” Bebow said. “We saw a lot more of that almost from the beginning, when it opened in 1986. Not only has our volume increased significantly, but just how big the room needs to be has expanded, too.”

The hospital strives to have an average wait time of 140 minutes, Bebow said. According to Pro Publica’s ER Wait Watcher, which last complied data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2014, White River Medical Center’s average wait time to see a doctor is 42 minutes, while on average, it takes 146 minutes from the time they arrive for emergency-room visitors to be sent home.

“Some days, we’re down to 120 minutes, and some days, we’re closer to that 160,” he said. “When you have a trauma accident, that takes priority. You’ll start having some backups on lesser emergency care.”

When planning for the renovation process started, construction stakeholders and emergency-room personnel spent months evaluating what the new facility should look like, Bebow said. The medical center also studied the emergency rooms of other hospitals.

“Whenever you start that process, you involve those folks who actually have to work in that location,” he said. “To build a new emergency room, it takes a lot of research.”

Bebow said there are several new features to the new emergency department that patients and visitors will notice upon arrival.

“First thing, for those who drive up to the emergency room, they now have a canopy where they can be taken out of cars and put back in cars, too. You have the ability to be protected from the elements,” he said. “We’ve got expanded trauma capacity now; it’s greater than we had before. The size and number of treatment rooms have expanded. There’s better patient privacy than what we had before.

“[We’ve got a] private family room where we can take families and get them out of the waiting room and into a private setting. Those are probably some of the most obvious things people will see when they come here. It’s certainly more spacious.”

Parker said she is excited about some of the add-ons the renovation project has brought to the hospital.

“I am truly excited about every aspect of the new department, but I am particularly proud of the family-room accommodations,” she said. “We worked with the hospital chaplain and the patient/family advisory committee to integrate the needs of families and visitors into the new design.”

The inclusion of an isolation room and a decontamination shower is important for patients who are infected or who have been exposed to some form of pathogen, Bebow said.

“Emergency rooms today have to have those areas, not only for the protection of the patient, but for the caregivers,” he said.

Bebow said he’s looking forward to the construction being over, as it is challenging to both renovate the department and care for patients. There will be an open house for the emergency department in late November or early December.

“The renovation has brought many changes to the [department],” Parker said. “While the cosmetic changes

are the most obvious, I believe patients and visitors will experience many positive changes when utilizing the services of the emergency department.”

Staff writer Syd Hayman can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or


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