For years, the emergency room at Roslyn's St. Francis Hospital was so crowded it resembled "a department store with a big sale," its director recalled.
Despite a world-class reputation as a heart center, area residents often sought emergency care at more distant North Shore hospitals, said Dr. Mark Hoornstra. But the former one-room ER is turning over a new leaf. A much larger and splashier facility, complete with green technology, is being unveiled Monday. It is part of a 15-year, nearly $190-million hospital expansion.
"We've been providing brilliant medical care here for years, but the place didn't really look like it," Hoornstra said. Though not quite a scene from "M*A*S*H," he noted, his ER had a serious overcrowding problem. Its patient population was growing, yet the facility was too small to keep pace.
The size of the new ER, with rooms that offer more privacy, has almost doubled, to 11,300 square feet, fitting more than 10 new beds. It's also expected to use less electricity.
For some longtime employees, the renovations, which are almost completed, mark a turning point in the hospital's evolution. Started as a convalescent home in 1922, and run by a group of Franciscan nuns, the facility was a sanitarium for children with rheumatic fever and heart disease. Over the years, the hospital expanded steadily. In 1967, a one-bedroom ER was installed, and it built a reputation as a renowned heart center.
But still, it was lesser known for its ER, prompting Hoornstra to nickname it "the best-kept secret on Long Island."
"I don't think many people thought of St. Francis when they thought of ER," said Stanley Markocki, 82, a longtime Port Washington resident and St. Francis patient for 15 years.
With the renovations, hospital staff hopes that perception will change and the hospital will be more competitive. "It is more than just a cardiac hospital," said Kathy Gilligan-Steiner, an ER nurse who has worked at the hospital for 37 years.
With the new ER, the hospital is poised to become more competitive. Hoornstra predicts a 20 percent bump in visitors.
At St. Francis' ER, the number of patients seen has risen, on average, nearly 4 percent each year, Hoornstra said. Pressure is mounting, doctors say, for ERs to diagnose and treat patients, too. "Now you can't really admit someone unless you know what's wrong," Hoornstra said.
Dr. Peter Viccellio, a professor and clinical director of emergency medicine at Stony Brook University, said as hospitals close nationwide, ERs will see more business.
"The volume of emergency visits has steadily gone up every year," he said. "We're doing more stuff in the emergency departments to treat and diagnose patients, so all of this demands a larger enterprise."
For Markocki and other seniors, a larger ER close to home is comforting. "Many people, when they retire, are staying in Port," he said. "The convenience of St. Francis means a lot to them."
The New E.R.
Renovation costs: $8 million
Construction time: 16 months
Energy savings: 25 percent expected reduction in electrical use
Among the features:
25 private and semiprivate rooms
Opaquing and glass sliding privacy doors
Separate ambulance and ambulatory entrances
Low-flow plumbing fixtures
High-efficiency light fixtures