October 2, 2008

ER Returns to Westwood Hospital


After 319 days, the emergency room at the former Pascack Valley Hospital opened again on Wednesday -- its first patient a 13-year- old girl who dropped a can of pumpkin-pie filling on her big toe.

Now a satellite emergency department of Hackensack University Medical Center, the Westwood facility is open around the clock to treat patients with non-life-threatening emergencies. Those who require surgery or stay longer than 12 hours are to be transferred to other hospitals.

"Nobody is happier than I am," said John Birkner, the mayor of Westwood, who arrived with a fruit basket. "This is probably the most important thing to happen in Westwood in 53 years, since the start of Pascack Valley Hospital."

Birkner and other local leaders had been upset when Pascack Valley closed last fall because they feared that the longer travel times to reach other hospitals on heavily trafficked roads would endanger residents.

The facility has been rechristened Hackensack University Medical Center North at Pascack Valley. Hackensack has spent about $4 million on upgrades so far.

Hackensack filed an application last month with the state to open a 128-bed full-service community hospital there. The for-profit hospital would be a joint venture with Legacy Hospital Partners Inc., a Texas private equity firm.

It was an unusually quiet day: The region had just eight paramedic calls, and all of those patients were taken to other hospitals.

On Day One for the new ER, there were three patients, all walk- ins. The ratio of staff to patients was roughly 10-to-1.

Megan Pierce, 13, of Emerson, had dropped a heavy can on her big toe; Wesley Falt, 12, of Hillsdale, had fallen in gym class and hurt his hand; and 15-year-old Megan Rushforth of River Edge, had strained her shoulder playing soccer for River Dell High School's junior varsity team. Each was quickly treated and released.

Dr. Joseph Feldman, chairman of emergency medicine, and Lisa Iachetti, the department's director of nursing, met earlier with local ambulance squads to discuss what types of cases the satellite emergency department would treat.

The captain of the Westwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Marvin Sachs, welcomed the ER's reopening, but not the limited service.

"The unfortunate thing is they're not able to treat everything that comes in," he said.

During the 10 months the emergency room was closed, ambulances drove longer distances to take patients to other hospitals.

"When we have to go to Englewood, Hackensack or Holy Name, you're talking 30 percent added to the normal run time," said Bill Kroepke, captain of the Washington Township Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Three ambulance runs from Washington Township on Wednesday bypassed the Westwood satellite and went directly to Valley, Kroepke said.

Valley physicians had prepared a flier for patients explaining when they should visit a "full-service hospital emergency department." Signs of a heart attack or stroke, fainting, vision changes or sudden or severe pain were all on the list. State regulations also require any emergency patient who is more than 20 weeks pregnant or under the influence of drugs or alcohol to be treated at a full-service emergency department.

Valley officials said they didn't oppose the reopening of the emergency room, but they are opposed to the plan to open a full- service hospital there.

"It will weaken the existing health care system of northern New Jersey," said Gail Callandrillo, Valley's vice president for planning. Other hospitals in the area have enough hospital beds to treat everyone, she said.

Englewood vice president Michael Pietrowicz said local residents should know that Hackensack will be a minority partner in a venture run by a for-profit company.

The union that represented employees of the former Pascack Valley question the new ER.

"We know our neighbors are anxious to once again have access to local emergency services," said Ann Twomey, president of the Healthcare Professionals and Allied Employees union. "However, a free-standing emergency department without the ability to properly treat all emergencies will not meet the needs or expectations of this community."


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