MarinHealth opens new emergency and trauma center

MarinHealth Medical Center’s administrators are touting its new emergency department and trauma center as the perfect environment for treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Really, the hospital is the safest place to be right now,” said Dr. David Klein, chief executive officer of the Greenbrae hospital.

While the emergency department wasn’t designed specifically with coronavirus in mind, it is three times the size of its predecessor, providing the space to keep patients separated, and it has the technology doctors and nurses need to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Situated within the new $535 million Oak Pavilion wing of the hospital, the emergency department features five trauma bays and 20 private rooms, including negative pressure and decontamination rooms to care for highly infectious patients. Negative pressure means that air is pulled into the room and then filtered before moving outside, containing infectious diseases inside the room.

The center boasts large hallways to transport patients, and separated patient and staff areas, allowing for maximum social distancing. Rooms are also equipped with video systems that allow doctors and nurses to check on patients remotely, said Michelle Tracy, director of emergency services.

“We can actually sit at a computer and remote into the room and talk to a patient face to face,” Tracy said. “That way we don’t have to put on a gown and mask and do all that.”

Not only does that help prevent possible exposure to infectious diseases, it keeps staffers from burning through their supply of protective gear, staffers said.

What’s more, there are separate entrances and exam rooms for psychiatric patients and those from prison and jail, so that they never cross paths with the general population, Tracy said.

The hospital’s ambulance bay provides better access to patients and is situated next to the imagery and radiology department and surgery center, allowing for fast treatment, Tracy said.

The hospital is the only Level III-designated trauma center in Marin, which means it is equipped with the tools and expertise to handle nearly all injuries. The center is prepared to handle life-threatening illnesses, emergency spine and brain surgery, and care for heart attacks and strokes.

Designated as a pediatric receiving center and an “ouchless emergency department” for children, the department is certified for all types of pediatric emergencies, Tracy said.

The emergency department handles about 40,000 patient visits annually and is the entry point for approximately 60% of those who are admitted, staffers said.

The former emergency department is 32 years old, said Karin Reese, chief nursing officer of the hospital.

“It’s night and day,” she said, comparing the two departments. “It’s just a completely different hospital experience that starts in the ED.”

Klein added that the overall design was conceived with the patient in mind. It has floor-to-ceiling windows to allow plenty of natural light for a comforting experience, he said.

“It’s really a healing place,” he said. “It is a nice brand of medical science in the art of healing.”

Staffers want to reassure residents that even though there is a pandemic, it is safe to seek medical treatment.

Reese said the hospital has seen many patients who are in more critical condition when they arrive because they waited too long to seek treatment. This is because the virus scare has ingrained a false fear that going to the hospital is putting people at risk of virus exposure, Reese said.

“Really, for the health of the community, we need to get the message out that we are safe here,” Reese said. “Seek out care sooner rather than later.”

Dr. Matt Willis, the Marin County public health officer, agreed that the advancements in design and technology make the hospital safe. He said the private patient rooms that have negative pressure and decontamination capabilities are a nice change from what most envision when they think of an emergency room: an open room with patient beds partitioned with curtains.

“And all these new designs predated COVID-19,” Willis said. “It was a really thoughtful approach to the design and it’s going to go a long way to help prevent infections.”

The Oak Pavilion, a four-story, 260,000, square-foot tower, opened last week after a decades-long effort to revamp the hospital.

Marin voters approved a $394 million general obligation bond in 2013 to help pay for the new wing. It has 114 private rooms, so when combined with the existing hospital wing, there are 186 rooms overall.

The original hospital was built in 1952. The new hospital was designed to accommodate the county’s growing population and meet new seismic safety standards.

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