WALLA WALLA - This is the year for significant change, said Monty Knittel, president and chief executive officer of Walla Walla General Hospital. And on Wednesday, action will be put to the words in a groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for 11 a.m.
In the first major upgrade since the facility was built in 1978, plans call for a total renovation to the front entrance, an expanded emergency department, centralized registration and waiting areas, physician office improvements and an updated cafeteria.
The core of the $15 million project is improving the ability to treat emergencies and trauma with more space, structural privacy safeguards and updated technology. Other components are nearly as important, however - better patient flow into and through the hospital by eliminating bottle-neck and confusing areas, for instance.
The present design puts up roadblocks for already stressed patients, noted Kristi Spurgeon Johnson, director of marketing. "One example is, right now if you are going to register at physical therapy, you go register at the window and wait in that waiting room. The same for the lab. You go there, register and wait in those areas, all in different parts, so you have to wander around and try to find those places."
Since people are typically coming into hospitals for tests and care, it just makes the situation harder for all, she added.
With the yet-to-come central registration area, along with "fewer and nicer" waiting areas, help is on the way for the problem, Spurgeon Johnson pointed out.
In addition, staff will come fetch patients from waiting areas and guide them through the various hallways.
"So you don't have to try and navigate here and there just to find out where your appointment is," she said. "The more we can make it an easy process, the better it is for the patient."
Plans are also calling for a cafeteria "redo," Knittel said. "We want it less institutional and more restaurant-like. I've dreamed of having a hospital cafeteria with an emphasis on fresh food and more variety."
He made the mistake, he said with a laugh, of sending his food service staff to a restaurant trade show in Chicago. "It had 13 miles of displays."
Even the gift shop will have a new look and mission, with the goal being consistent rollover of contemporary inventory and an emphasis on being more than just a typical hospital gift shop, Knittel explained.
As well, the lobby area will be larger and more user-friendly. Altogether 15,535 square-feet is due to be added to the building's footprint, growing to a new total of 107,642 square-feet.
The remodeling strategy comes from talks about patient experience, Knittel said. That means an emergency department designed with a great deal of input from staff. It means added security measures, reconfiguring parking and upgrading infrastructure such as the facility's heating, cooling and air ventilation systems.
The color schemes will reflect WWGH's mission and the region in which it's planted. Shades of wheat, green, mustard, orange, purple - all designed to bring nature and nurture together on the walls, floors and in the furnishings - have been suggested, Knittel said.
The hospital's new project dovetails with the finish of another. To enhance cardiac care in the Walla Walla Valley, WWGH has hired cardiologist Dr. Brad Titus.
Titus is board-certified in interventional and mainstream cardiology, cardiovascular disease and internal medicine. He is also founder and managing partner of Northwest Cardiovascular Institute, vice president of cardiac services at Adventist Medical Center in Portland, former cardiology chair at Legacy Portland Hospitals and former medical director of cardiac catheterization labs there.
His arrival in Walla Walla coincides with the opening of WWGH's new state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization laboratory, Knittel said.
The high-tech lab will provide "rapid and accurate" diagnostic tools to help determine the best course of care for a patient with cardiac symptoms.
"Our emergency care for cardiac patients is among the best in the nation in terms of rapid diagnosis and timely provision of care," Knittel pointed out. "The goal is to have patients stay here."
It's a new world, the CEO said. "We've given ourselves permission to dream ... We're telling employees, ‘What you've known and thought about the General is going to be different.'"
IF YOU GO:
The community is invited to tour Walla Walla General Hospital’s new catheterization facility and meet the hospital’s new cardiologist, Dr. Brad Titus. at a grand opening event on Wednesday at 11 a.m.