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Expanded Sentara Obici ED making progress

Sentara Obici Hospital has finished the first phase of its $13 million emergency department expansion and is on pace to finish before the end of this year.

The 7,000-square-foot first phase includes a new patient entrance and waiting room, along with 12 new treatment rooms — two of which are safe rooms for behavioral health patients during evaluations. When complete, Obici’s emergency department will have about 20,000 square feet.

These rooms are currently being used while the project blocks off and demolishes half of the existing treatment spaces during the work on the department’s expansion. When the second phase of the project is finished in June, it will switch to the other half of the department for the last phase of work, which is expected to be completed in November.

“Everything is right on track,” said Lauren Lawless, Sentara Obici emergency department manager. “We’re really impressed. We thought initially as COVID hit that we may hit some snags, but we’ve been able to power through and we’re right on track, right on schedule.”

The emergency department, when finished, will have 37 treatment spaces — 28 treatment rooms and nine private minor care spaces. While two of the rooms are designed for behavioral health patients, they can be converted to regular treatment rooms when necessary. It will increase the emergency room capacity to 73,000 patients per year — up from 40,000 — when complete.

Previously, Obici had 21 treatment spaces and during the department’s expansion, has 22 such spaces.

Lawless said there was a slight drop from the 46,000 people who came through the emergency department in 2020, but they’ve seen more serious cases coming in.

“Our volume actually decreased slightly, but the acuity of our patients increased significantly this (past) year,” Lawless said. “We saw, especially in the earlier months of COVID, a lot of patients were scared to come to the emergency department, and so they put off care.

“And so that accounts for a significant decrease in our volume, but then also, the patients that would have normally come in and been seen were putting it off, which, they were a little bit sicker when they actually came through the department.”

As part of modernizing the emergency department, there will be private patient rooms with sliding doors instead of curtains for added privacy and infection control.

The designated “minor care” area for ambulatory patients will allow patients to sit in more comfortable chairs and remain in their clothes, which the hospital says will allow “a more rapid completion of care and discharge.”

Lawless said a drive-lane has been added to allow for patients to enter right into the emergency department.

Miranda Powell, Sentara Obici director of patient care services for the emergency department, said the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the need, though the plan for an expanded emergency department has been known for years.

“These plans for this emergency room were done long before any of us thought there would be a pandemic right here in our country and affecting us so much in Suffolk,” Powell said. “But the pandemic has just verified the need for our expansion. We knew we needed it before, but it has supported everything that we have done through this expansion process to be sure we can serve our community.”

Both asked for patience as the expansion project continues. They said all the services it provides will continue throughout the process.

“Just bear with us,” Lawless said. “We realize that it’s still tough. They come in, they want to be seen quickly and we are doing our absolute best to do that. We will have so much space when it’s all said and done. It is a little noisy right now (and) we are working through that.”