Patients in beds in the hallways. Five patients a day who walk in and wait so long they walk out before being seen. Privacy at a premium. Storage space a luxury.
That's how it is today, but things are about to change.
MultiCare Health System and the emergency departments at Tacoma General Hospital and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital will soon enter the 21st century.
"It's physically impossible to see any more patients," says Audrey VanVeen, MultiCare's clinical project manager.
"We can't fit any more staff," says Sara Long, vice president of philanthropy at MultiCare.
"We're in a very old, small department that we outgrew more than 10 years ago," says Bob Stoecker, medical director of the Tacoma General emergency department and a director with Tacoma Emergency Care Physicians, which contracts to staff the department.
You may have seen the construction site along Martin Luther King Jr. Way at the site of the former First United Methodist Church. The church has been torn down, and the congregation has moved to a new location, while contractors have dug a hole to accommodate the hospital addition.
And from that hole they removed 83,000 cubic yards -- or approximately 3,320 dump-truck loads -- of soil.
From that hole will rise a new building four stories tall, with oncology treatment facilities on the top and bottom and a new emergency department, including an express care facility, in the middle.
--The emergency departments of Tacoma General and Mary Bridge will occupy the second floor with 41 "universal" examination rooms that allow simple and advanced care.
--The express care center will contain 32 examination rooms -- 17 for the treatment of adults, seven for pediatric patients and two for triage. Six observation rooms will allow for extended monitoring of patients. And where a current examination room at Mary Bridge offers 64 square feet, each new room will offer 175 square feet. All examination rooms will be private, so no longer will a patient be heard through a curtain describing his or her ailments and medical history.
--A second-floor trauma suite will contain six large rooms and 11 patient beds.
--The new department will have 88 percent more beds than the facility it replaces. The project will also nearly double the space available for patients awaiting treatment and for families who accompany patients to the emergency department.
--Space for ambulances will double, and valet parking will be available for drive-up patients.
--Both the express and critical care units will feature "continuous negative air flow" to segregate any airborne infectious agents or toxins.
--Overall, both departments will comprise more than five times the space currently available -- expanding from 13,000 to 73,500 square feet.
--A new ecumenical chapel on the third floor will offer space for small services, worship or simple meditation. All faiths will be welcome.
MultiCare has begun a fundraising campaign to secure $25 million of the total $72 million cost of the project. The balance will be financed through cash reserves, operational income and debt.
"At the end of the day, we're a nonprofit," says Long. "There are three sources of funding for any health care organization -- money we earn, money we can borrow and philanthropy. If you look around the country and find the highest performing institutions, they will be nonprofits, and they will be highly supported by philanthropy. You'll never be able to earn enough or borrow enough to be able to reinvest in the technology and services that we all want."
The $25 million campaign has already raised $16.3 million, primarily from local foundations and what Long calls the "MultiCare family" of employees and physicians.
The facility will be ready for patients in March 2010 -- but its design has already had an impact.
Stoecker said Monday that his group recently hired five physicians who will work in the new emergency department.
They were impressed, he says, with what's about to happen.