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Photo by Jon Anderson.
Dr. Bryan Balentine goes over test results with Virginia Chambers of Hoover in an exam room at the Medical West freestanding emergency department off John Hawkins Parkway.
When Consuela Dambrino’s 13-year-old daughter started having severe pain in her side in October, Dambrino was thankful to have the new Medical West freestanding emergency department just down the road from their Southpointe neighborhood.
Not only was it close by and they could avoid a 20- to 30-minute drive into Birmingham, but there also was no wait to see a doctor, and the doctors and staff were attentive to her daughter’s needs, she said.
“Our experience was great,” Dambrino said. “Everybody was very nice, very calm. No one was ever in a hurry, or dismissive or aggravated to be at work.”
The staff even provided copies of the images from her daughter’s scan tests on a CD to take with them, she said.
Because of her daughter’s condition, the Dambrinos have since been back to the Medical West emergency department off John Hawkins Parkway about five more times, and each time they have received the same great service, Dambrino said.
It beats an emergency room experience Dambrino had at University Hospital last year when she fell through the attic floor while chasing a squirrel.
“We were stacked up like cordwood in the hallways,” and it took a couple of hours to be seen, Dambrino said.
The Medical West freestanding emergency department in western Hoover in May celebrated its first anniversary, noting 15,738 patients served in a year’s time.
Keith Pennington, CEO of the Medical West hospital in Bessemer, said the emergency department in Hoover, which was the first freestanding emergency department to open in Alabama, has far exceeded expectations.
“We’ve had a very successful year,” Pennington said of the 24,342-square-foot facility in The Shoppes of Hoover shopping center at the corner of Interstate 459 and John Hawkins Parkway.
About 1,500 patients were transferred to hospitals for further treatment, and more than 600 were admitted to Medical West in Bessemer, he said.
Surveys indicated 99 percent of the patients treated there were satisfied with their care, Pennington said.
Dr. Conrad De Los Santos, an emergency physician who is chief of staff at Medical West and one of 12 full-time doctors who rotate at the Hoover emergency department, said the facility in Hoover has seen patients with all kinds of conditions in the past year, from heart attacks and strokes to trauma injuries from vehicle accidents.
As with any emergency department, there has even been people who came in with stubbed toes, De Los Santos said. But, without a doubt, there have been patients treated there whose lives were saved because they had quick access to emergency medical care, he said.
“We greatly enjoy our presence here in Hoover. We feel that we’ve made a difference in the lives of the citizens of Hoover and the surrounding areas,” De Los Santos said. “We’re very happy and proud to be here in one year. We hope that one year, of course, will turn into 50 years and beyond … We are very dedicated to providing excellent emergency care and after care if you need to be admitted.”
While most of the patients treated at the Hoover emergency department come from nearby areas, some have come from other parts of the metro area. There have even been patients from eastern Birmingham when other hospitals’ emergency rooms were too busy, De Los Santos said.
“They’ll pass by five, six, seven, eight hospitals to come here,” he said.
Strangely enough, some patients have even come to the freestanding Hoover emergency department from Tuscaloosa, he said.
The staff at the Medical West ER in Hoover is fully capable of handling delivery of babies and has come close to it on a couple of occasions, De Los Santos said. There was one patient who did not know she was pregnant but came in with abdominal pains, he said. When they discovered the pregnancy, they transferred her to Medical West hospital, and she delivered a baby within an hour, he said.
Stand-alone ERs prefer to have baby deliveries done at the hospital, where there is a full neonatal intensive care unit available if needed, De Los Santos said.
Hoover Fire Chief Chuck Wingate said the Medical West emergency facility has been a fantastic addition for the city. He likes that the stand-alone center can do everything that most hospital-based emergency rooms can, only sooner because of the proximity.
The Hoover Fire Department, which has its own transport units, brought 50 patients to the Medical West stand-alone emergency department in the first year, said Capt. David Hambright, the Fire Department’s lead emergency medical services officer. Regional Paramedical Services brought about 650 patients there, he said.
Monty Gooch, director of the Medical West freestanding emergency department, said the facility receives close to 100 patients by EMS vehicles each month. The rest come by private vehicle.
The $13.5 million facility has two trauma rooms, 10 exam rooms, a CT scan machine, X-ray machines, ultrasound equipment, a full-service laboratory and a helipad if patients need transfer to a hospital by helicopter.
So far, there has been no need to use the helipad, but it’s there if it is needed, Gooch said. Usually, it’s quicker to transfer patients by ambulance unless there is a severe traffic backup, De Los Santos said.
When the stand-alone emergency room opened, Medical West hired 65 people to staff the facility, but as word has spread and demand has grown, there now are about 130 people on staff there, including about 65 patient care staff, Gooch said.
De Los Santos said the support shown by Hoover officials has been great, but he would love to see the city allow better signage to help people find the emergency center easier. Some patients have driven by the entrance road three times without seeing the sign, he said.
The freestanding emergency department can be found right next to the Sprouts grocery store off John Hawkins Parkway, at 5300 Medford Drive.