Pinellas News

Hospital makes pitch for bigger emergency room

— The number of visits to Florida Hospital North Pinellas’ emergency room continues to increase, but its 13-bed capacity remains the same.

City and hospital officials have been aware of the issue for years, though no in-depth expansion plans exist.

A newly formed study group intends to change that.

Hospital President and CEO Bruce Bergherm gave a PowerPoint presentation to the City Commission last week detailing the ER’s current constraints and future demand.

“Essentially it’s something we need to look at,” Bergherm said of expanding theemergency room.

“Clearly the existing emergency room is not conducive for the future.”

According to Bergherm’s presentation, total visits exceeded the 20,000 mark in 2013 and are projected to be up about 10 percent by the end of this year.

Constraints beyond the ER’s small, 13-bed size included patient privacy concerns and only having nine dedicated ER parking spots and two dedicated ambulance loading zones.

Bergherm also said the hospital receives a steady stream of complaints regarding roadway safety and entering and exiting the facility from South Pinellas Avenue. Placing atraffic signal placed at the entrance has been discussed.

Any expansion, however, requires the buy-in of multiple parties: the hospital, the city and its residents, the Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital Foundation and Adventist Health System, operator of all 23 Florida Hospital sites throughout the state. Florida Hospital North Pinellas leases the +++hospital’s buildings and grounds from Tarpon Springs and the current agreement lasts for about 28 more years. The study group described by Bergherm and Mike Kouskoutis, a Tarpon Springs lawyer who sits on the foundation’s board, will include individuals representing each entity.

Commissioner Townsend Tarapani volunteered to act as the city’s liaison when the study group gets to work and his peers approved his participation last week.

“I look forward to the discussions and look forward to working with the foundation and keeping this board privy to everything that’s being discussed,” Tarapani said.

The last time a similar ER-related study was conducted was in 2008. Based on projections, the hospital should have a 20,000 square foot ER by 2017 to handle increased traffic. The expansion detailed in that study would cost $20million to $35 million.

“Back in ’08 when we looked at the pricing of what it would be, there were cheaper ways to do it,” Kouskoutis said. “But this community deserves the best and we want to hit a home run.”

Financing details and all other specifics will be debated by the study group, with a goal of creating a strategic plan to bring back in front of city commissioners. Given the project’s probable scope, a special referendum will be needed to gain resident approval, Kouskoutis noted.

Though it is early in the process, Mayor David Archie said, he hopesa comprehensive and agreeable solution can be reached to find a necessary solution. “Over the last few years, I think all of us recognize the need for improvement as far as the emergency room is concerned.”

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