Artist’s rendering of the forthcoming $10 million expansion at Piedmont Mountainside. The renovation will add a new emergency room, expanded operating room and an update to the interior throughout the Jasper hospital.
On his last day as CEO at Piedmont Mountainside Hospital , Mike Robertson assured the community that a planned $10 million expansion of the hospital may have stalled slightly but is still in the works this summer.
Robertson said plans had called for a May groundbreaking of the project to add a new emergency room, expanded operating facilities, an additional ten-bed capacity plus a remodeled interior theme throughout the hospital on Highway 515.
But, “we’re stuck in permits,” said Robertson during the late June interview. He said the issue is not with the hospital building but with changes in design for the frontage roads between the hospital and the four-lane. The City of Jasper is seeking one thing, and the DOT is asking for another with the planned re-routing of the two lane road.
Robertson, who is leaving the local hospital to take a promotion within the Piedmont company, said he is still optimistic that work will get underway this summer.
Piedmont Mountainside’s desire to increase emergency room capacity stems from continued heavy demand that is pushing the hospital over capacity and increasing patient wait times.
Robertson said the current emergency room was designed to handle around 12,000 to 14,000 patients a year. But in the past year the emergency room at the Pickens hospital saw 23,000 emergency room visits––an average of 30 per shift coming through the doors.
Robertson joked that the only time you could walk right in and see an emergency room doctor was at 4 a.m. He said the deluge of people seeking emergency room service has increased wait times to more than three hours fairly often, and, at times, the wait is up to six hours.
A packed ER is common to all hospitals as more and more people turn to emergency rooms to handle symptoms that could be handled in a regular doctor’s office.
Robertson said this new demand increases the need to “triage” quickly to see that life-threatening emergencies are seen right away, while those with conditions like ear aches are treated when possible.
Robertson said there is still an “urban myth” that you can be treated for free at an emergency room if you lack insurance, which is not true but does attract quite a few of the ER visits. He said at Piedmont Mountainside, a patient in the emergency room for a non-life-threatening ailment will be given payment options before treatment. He said this obviously creates some angry patients, those who still believe a non-profit hospital treats patients for free.
Aside from patients seeking free care, Robertson said there is a growing number of people, particularly parents, who use an emergency room for routine medical needs. He said many of these express a feeling that they can’t take time out of a busy day to visit doctors during normal office hours.
He said with a rushed modern life, many people try to get through a work-day or school day without taking time off to see a doctor, and then, when it’s late in the day, they have no choice but to go to an emergency room.
Robertson described a typical scenario as someone with a basic ear ache (or with a child with an ear ache) who lets it go until bedtime and then decides it is so painful they need to see a doctor.
Robertson said hospitals and the medical community need to do a better job of educating people about there being better ways to gain treatment than coming to an emergency room for ailments that could be handled in a doctor’s office.
Until then, they are bumping up their capacity.
Along with the new emergency room facility, which will sit in front of the current hospital, Piedmont Mountainside will add capacity to its operating room and new CT scan equipment that will allow more cardiac services.
Robertson said they performed 2,500 surgeries last year at the local hospital and will increase this facility through expansion of pre-operating and post-operation areas.
Along with the ER and OR, Piedmont will add a new 64-slice CT scan machine, which will boost its cardiac offerings. Robertson said cardiac care has long been a “mainstay” of Piedmont facilities. The new 64-slice machine will allow doctors to get a 3-D look at internal organs such as the heart. This machine will allow more cardiac testing for clogged arteries.
Mary Ghorley, the community outreach director for the hospital, saw the cardiac equipment as essential to meeting needs in the local community. “We are really going to address the needs of our community,” she said. “We’ll have a good outreach and prevention program.”
Along with the expansion, Robertson said Piedmont will update the interior throughout the hospital to make it more inviting. He said they are going with décor that will create “tranquility. We don’t want to have that stark ER feel,” he said.
Robertson thanks community
In closing, the outgoing CEO said he appreciates everyone in the community he has worked with while at the hospital. Robertson, a Ball Ground native, said it had not been an easy decision, but career-wise he could not turn down the opportunity to move into a regional role with Piedmont Healthcare’s South Region.
“I think I’m leaving the place better than I found it,” Robertson said.