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Emergency department construction started at Harris

fr harrisConstruction is now underway for a new emergency department at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva, an $11 million project that will replace the existing emergency department, nearly 30 years old.

“It was just not built for the number of patients we see in it today,” hospital CEO Steve Heatherly said of the existing facility. Patient volume has jumped by 40 percent since the existing emergency department was built, Heatherly said, and doctors there now see 18,000 to 20,000 patients every year. 

The new emergency department will nearly double patient capacity, boasting 23 beds compared to the existing 13. Of those, 14 will be for acute care, five for patients with less severe injuries or illnesses and the remaining four for patients with behavioral health issues. Patients with behavioral issues often wind up in the emergency room, but the traditional ER setup isn’t necessarily equipped to handle their needs while they’re awaiting transfer to a more specialized facility. 

“This will create a better, safer environment for them, their families and our staffers,” Heatherly said. 

The construction, Heatherly said, is a direct result of Harris’ affiliation with Duke LifePoint, which purchased Harris, Swain Community Hospital and Haywood Regional Medical Center last year. In its purchase agreement with Harris and Swain — a deal crafted separately from that struck with Haywood  — Duke LifePoint promised to invest at least $43 million in the hospitals over the next eight years. 

Bunny Johns, board chair for Harris and Swain, made sure that the emergency department made the list of promised projects. 

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“Bunny let us know very early ‘We’re going to get a new emergency room and that’s part of the deal,’” said Jeff Seraphine, president of Duke LifePoint’s eastern division. 

“For more than a decade we have worked for this day,” Johns said. 

Construction on the 18,000-square-foot emergency department is expected to take 10 to 12 months, finishing up sometime between August and October 2016. 

But the emergency department isn’t the only project in the works for Harris and Swain. 

Construction of the New Generations Family Birthing Unit, a complete overhaul of the existing mother-baby wing expected to cost $6 to $8 million, will likely get underway during the first quarter of 2016. Like the emergency department, the birthing unit was part of the hospital purchase agreement. Duke LifePoint is in the midst of the formal funding process for the project, the first phase of which — a labor and delivery unit — was finished before Duke LifePoint bought the hospital. It was built using donations gathered from more than two years of fundraising. 

Swain Community Hospital is also likely to see investment over the coming year. Two projects are in the works for that facility, Heatherly said, though the order in which they’ll be completed has not yet been determined. 

A $1.2 million renovation of the hospital’s operating room, which used to provide outpatient services in Bryson City, is planned — the operating room has been closed for about three years. 

Also in the works is an expanded emergency department in Swain County. 

“We don’t necessarily need a new emergency department there, but we need to create a bigger space,” Heatherly said. 

Both projects are in the planning phase, with funding to be announced at a later date. 

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