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Lakewood Health shows off new ER facility

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The Lakewood Health System in Staples is completing a major remodeling project in the emergency department. The project includes adding more rooms for waiting patients and a change in the entrance to the department. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch Video and Gallery2 / 4
Connie Wells, emergency services manager at Lakewood Health System Staples, talks about the remodeling of the emergency department with the addition of more rooms for patients and a technical upgrade to safety and security measures at the medical center. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch Gallery and Video3 / 4
Paula Stokes registered nurse, works Thursday at her computer in the newly remodeled emergency department at Lakewood Health System in Staples. The department was part of an extensive remodel to upgrade key features in the emergency department as well as add more rooms for patients. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch Video and Gallery4 / 4

STAPLES—Lakewood Health System doctors and nurses moved into their new Emergency Department in Staples last Wednesday, with expanded capacity for all patients and new technology to help keep mental health patients safe.

Emergency Department Manager Connie Wells was tapped to give local media outlets a tour of the new space, which began the construction phase in March.

Her white hair, trifocals and sweet demeanor give her a grandmotherly appearance that belies the toughness that must come with 45 years in the trenches of health care and nine years of running an emergency room (more like 15 if one counts the unofficial years).

The Lakewood ED's expansion is part of a $30 million system-wide development project that also includes a beefed-up Pillager clinic and a new MRI suite in Staples so patients there don't have to rely on a travelling truck-mounted MRI machine.

The expansion moves from the Staples emergency department from six rooms to nine. Wells explained the need for more treatment space was obvious. In 2016, the ED saw 7,800 patients.

"We were often having to see patients out in the waiting area because we quickly filled up those six beds," she said. "Three doesn't seem like much for adding beds, but it does make a big bit of difference in our patient flow, our patient satisfaction, employee satisfaction."

Wells' tour ran along the same path a patient would take if they came into the ED. The facility's smart-looking new waiting room boasts a fish tank, helpful for ED visitors with toddlers.

A more practical new asset is the triage room, where visitors meet privately with health care providers for their initial assessment. During busy days, it's in this room where ED staff will determine whether a patient's issue is serious enough to admit them, or if they can stand to wait a while as the ED treats more critical cases.

Wells explained that before the remodel, the ED didn't have a space dedicated solely for triage. Patients were examined in a semi-private corner of the admissions kiosk. With the new remodel, triage can occur in a private and professional space that looks more like a conventional medical exam room.

Lakewood also moved to address the rising tide of mental health patients forced into emergency rooms by a lack of clinical treatment space. Its new mental health "safe rooms" feature a "garage door," or shutter, that encloses the equipment and sharp edges in a room in order to prevent a violent or self-harming patient from doing damage. There are also cameras so nurses can monitor the patient from the front desk without having to endanger themselves by entering in person.

Although most of the time the safe rooms will be used for typical patients, Wells said, they also stand ready in the event a patient poses a threat to themselves or others.

"Not just Lakewood, but all the ERs, are seeing an increased length of stay for our mental health patients," she said.

The ED also has a new "negative pressure" room, which is useful in containing infectious airborne diseases. By means of a ventilation system that takes out more air from the room than it pumps in, air escaping from the negative pressure room to other rooms in the hospital is prevented, along with the airborne germs.

In total, seven rooms were remodeled or added. Wells said the change is a hit with hospital staff, especially the new nurses station which more space for each nurse.

"Everybody is in awe," she said.