WALLA WALLA — For Linda Givens, it’s all about the flow.
On Wednesday morning Givens was almost giddy with anticipation of the upcoming open house of Walla Walla General Hospital’s new Emergency Center. Surrounded by the walls the color of sun-dappled moss, a natural stone fireplace and soothing art of the reception area, the director of critical care services waved her hand in a delighted circle at all of it.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s called a “waiting area,” she cautioned. “This is ‘Creekside.’ Just ‘Creekside.” We are a ‘no wait’ ER. See the floor? Doesn’t it look like water?”
Givens, who’s waited for this day “forever” — or at least since the launch date 13 months ago — carried the theme down to her deep-blue scrubs. “These are the color of a stream, can you see that?”
Few would question her delight. The hospital’s newest space — the first phase of a $15 million makeover for the Adventist Health facility — adds square feet to the building on Second Avenue, said Kristi Spurgeon Johnson, director of marketing.
Built in 1975 to replace the aging building on Bonsella Street, the hospital’s remodel will make room for new technology and an attitude of patient-centered care. In the ER, that means generously-sized exam, triage and other rooms, divided into zones and named after local bodies of water.
In “Mill Creek,” on one side of the wide hallway, one nurse will oversee all cases admitted to his or her zone, Spurgeon Johnson said. Sliding — but soundproof — glass doors will keep the patient from feeling shut off and add to the beauty of the area.
Hospital staff did much research into modern emergency medicine environments, she explained. Their findings are reflected with inspirational quotes and Bible verses dotting the landscape, plus thought-provoking art, Spurgeon Johnson said. “It’s restful, peaceful. Reminders that what we do here is more than blood and broken bones. Our mission statement is more.”
Even the flooring has visual and purposeful shifts. The employee area is a darker wood laminate from the threshold on. “It’s like a cue, because when you’re here, you’re on break,” Spurgeon Johnson said, gesturing to the walnut-colored surface. “It’s hard work being on the emergency room staff.”
The idea is written in bold with Dr. Tom Underhill’s specially requested patio outside the big windows of the employee break room. The room has one chili-pepper-red wall, by the way, in the mix of neutral earth tones.
The medical director of WWGH emergency medicine asked for a dedicated spot to continue his tradition of throwing cookouts for the staff every so often, Spurgeon Johnson said with a grin. “We have awesome doctors.”
Creating the new while continuing to use existing space makes unique challenges for the hospital environment, said Greg Russell, director of plant services, as his staff and others hastened to clean up the last vestiges of their work in time for the afternoon’s expected visitors. Building and environment codes are particularly stringent for medical facilities and renovation projects tax everyone to keep patients and employees as safe as possible, he said. That meant extra attention to air systems and ways to contain project debris.
The new emergency medicine space is a forecast of what is to come. This puzzle is being assembled pieces at a time, with some non-patient areas already done up in new garb. A look through one ground-to-sky window revealed a conference room awaiting future meetings. And much work the public will never see — think electrical — is already in place.
The hospital has leaned heavily on its crew of volunteers during the project, according to Spurgeon Johnson. As hallways shift or dead-end and areas temporarily walled off and public entrances change, those men and women have proven “invaluable, meeting people at the temporary entrances, acting like tour guides in a way.”
As things are wrapped up sometime next summer, part of those duties will transition to staff. The hospital will have one check-in spot for all services and employees from those departments will escort patients to where they need to be.
It will be a welcome change from before, when the one-floor hospital could be maze-like, even for those who work there, she added.