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LIJ celebrates renovation of emergency department

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Work on the $34 million project will actually begin in several weeks and, when fully completed in 2007 will alleviate overcrowding by doubling the size of the department.

"This will create one of the most modern emergency facilities in the area," said Michael Dowling, president and chief executive officer of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, a group of 17 hospitals that includes the medical center. "We have been talking about this for a long time."

The department opened in 1954 with a 14,500-square-foot state-of-the-art facility designed for 14,000 to 15,000 visits a year. It now handles 62,000 patients annually, a number that is expected to grow to more than 75,000 in five years.

"The emergency room is terribly undersized," said Roy Zuckerberg, on the board of trustees for the health system and a former chairman during earlier planning for the project.

"The Queens police won't bring people to LIJ because it's full," he said, adding that the limited size hurt both the hospital's profitability and ability to serve the community.

Under the announced project, the old section of the Emergency Department will be completely renovated, while a new 18,000-foot L-shaped expansion will be built alongside. The effort will be intricately coordinated so that emergency service during the work is not disrupted.

Discussions on enlarging the department began more than 10 years ago, but the effort was delayed as "numerous renditions" of the design and location of the facility were considered, then revised or discarded, Dowling said. The approved plan is the "proper layout, the proper site and the proper structure," he said.

The improvements are expected to shorten wait times and give patients more privacy, particularly for children. The Emergency Department initially had space for such individualized care but "quickly grew out of its relatively new home" and had to cram more patients into a limited area, said William Mack, also a trustee of the health system and a former chairman.

The new department would provide a less traumatic experience for younger patients while also featuring an optimal work environment to maintain staff morale and to recruit the best medical professionals, he said.

It will have 41 additional observation, evaluation and treatment rooms, with private exam spots; a fast-track section for patients with minor injuries; a special mental health crises area; and the latest life-saving technology for patients who have suffered a stroke, heart attack or other major trauma. It will also offer separate living rooms for patients and their families to wait in instead of one large intake area.

"Our new department is really going to provide family-centered care," said Dr. Thomas Kwiatkowski, chairman of Emergency Medicine at the hospital. He added that the upgraded facility would improve wait times, make patient care more efficient and ensure the department stays on the cutting edge.

Speaking of LIJ's reputation for quality medical service, state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) said at the groundbreaking "it's nice they're going to have a 21st century Emergency Department to provide that care."

The project will begin in three weeks, when crews tear down the hospital's old power plant, recently replaced by a facility nearby. The construction site will then be prepared before work on the L-shaped expansion commences next spring.

Upon completion of that phase at the end of 2005, Emergency Department operations will vacate the old premises and move into the new space. The original section will be renovated, and by the end of 2006 the department will be able to use both areas. Final touches will be completed by early 2007.

The development represents just the beginning of a series of construction endeavors on the hospital campus during the next several years, worth at least $200 million and designed to meet an increase in community demand. In addition to the expanded Emergency Department, LIJ will get a 128-bed tower, while Zucker Hillside Hospital will replace its pavilion and add another building. Schneider Children's Hospital plans on doubling the size of its facility.

Calling it a "physical renaissance for these premises," Mack said the projects were long overdue.

"This campus is sorely in need of rebuilding," he said. "We're very pleased we can make a difference in the lives of thousands of people."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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