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Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital fully opened its brand new state-of-the-art emergency department Monday, taking a crucial step in its drive to consolidate key medical services aimed at caring for the sickest of the sick patients on the North Coast.

There are larger health care construction projects underway or planned in Santa Rosa, such as Sutter Health’s new hospital near the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts and Kaiser’s newly announced medical office building in southwest Santa Rosa.

But given Memorial’s designation as the only Level II trauma center on the North Coast, the $16.4 million emergency department expansion is a life-saving resource for the region’s most acutely ill patients. The Level II designation is the hospital industry’s second highest category for the treatment of such things as falls, auto accidents, gunshots, stabbings or burns.

“In just three to four years, we’re seeing almost the equivalent of the entire population of Santa Rosa,” said Todd Salnas, president of St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County. “We take patients from as far as the Oregon border to the Golden Gate Bridge.”

The expansion and renovation, which began two years ago and was carried out in three phases, features 26 all-private emergency rooms, including two new “safe rooms” for mental health patients and two enlarged trauma rooms and two larger cardiac/heart attack rooms with more advanced equipment.

The department is broken up into three pods, with their own physician, nursing and emergency technician teams to more efficiently manage the flow of patients. The processes put in place were designed to eliminate the practice of putting patients in hallway beds, hospital officials said.

Memorial Hospital sees an average of 118 patients a day, up from about 100 patients a day just a few months ago.

Part of that increase was caused by the recent closure of Palm Drive Hospital, said Kendall Allred, medical director for Santa Rosa Memorial emergency department.

“With the closure of Palm Drive, we saw a significant surge in our volume,” Allred said. “Since then we’ve been working hard to understand if the surge in volume is going to be the new standard.”

Allred said that as a result of the increase the emergency department has made several changes to its workflow, adjusting physician and nursing staff hours accordingly.

Monday morning, John Hallack, a Santa Rosa construction worker, was among the first to use the new emergency facility. Hallack, 57, suffers from atrial fibrillation, or abnormal heart rhythm, and was in one of the emergency department’s new cardiac rooms awaiting a procedure at noon.

“Today they’ll stop my heart and basically shock me,” Hallack said. “It’s a big deal but I’m in a very good hospital. I’ve got very good doctors and very good nurses.”

Hallack said he’s been in and out of Memorial Hospital for the past month, receiving treatment for his heart condition.

“At first I was scared when they said they were going to turn off my heart,” Hallack said. But he said the doctors have explained to him every step of the procedure, called cardioversion, and that has removed “half the fear.”

On Monday evening, hospital spokeswoman Katy Hillenmeyer said Hallack was doing well.

Salnas described the completion of the new emergency department as the final building block in a process of consolidating key teams of doctors, nurses and clinicians to care for the area’s most acutely ill residents. The emergency services expansion goes hand-in-hand with the hospital’s other independent certification care centers for treatment of stroke, heart attack and other high-risk illnesses.

Memorial’s emergency department is “the entryway for all of those patients. We are the first point of contact, we’re the ones that are laying eyes on these patients for the first time,” Allred said. “With the expansion, that’s the last piece of the puzzle.”

Memorial’s emergency department, which predominantly serves a five-county area, treated 1,865 trauma patients during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

During that time, the department handled a total of 37,838 patient visits. Its trauma caseload is expected to top 1,900 in the coming 12 months.

The department first received its level 2 trauma center designation in 2000, and is under contract with the county for providing those services. The contract was renewed by the county in 2010. At that time, hospital officials promised the county its other partner, the Coastal Valleys EMS Agency, that it would expand emergency services in order to meet the area’s growing need.

“This is our commitment to the community,” Salnas said.

The money for the expansion is 100 percent local, said Andrea Learned, vice president for development of St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County.

Back in 2010, St. Joseph Health reached out to local donors to get the project funded. Learned said that to date $10.4 million has been raised. The rest, she said, is expected to be raised by early September.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.