Wellmont set to expand emergency room in Big Stone Gap

Stephen Igo • Aug 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BIG STONE GAP — Wellmont Health System and Lonesome Pine Hospital officials broke ground Thursday on a $5 million expansion project that will provide a larger emergency care area and a new same-day surgery unit for the hospital in Big Stone Gap.

LPH President Robert Polahar said the improvements are “a big step forward for our hospital” and driven by a significant increase in patient demand in just the last two years. Polahar said the LPH Emergency Department served around 40 patients a day two years ago and now provides care to an average of 60 patients daily.

The larger emergency department will increase the number of emergency exam rooms from nine to 21, replace semiprivate exam rooms with private rooms, and provide space for a same-day surgery center, recovery area and two endoscopy suites. The surgery center will be built atop the expanded and ground-level emergency department space.

The project will also provide for the installation of a new magnetic resonance imaging machine and renovation of support areas, installation of new energy-efficient windows for the entire facility, and a new employee parking lot.

Dr. Elizabeth Cooperstein, LPH Emergency Department medical director, said the improvements will serve to enhance services delivered by a staff long committed to providing “excellent medical care in a safe environment to every patient who comes through our door.”

Wellmont Board Chairman A. Lee Shillito said the health system’s brass knows that “improvement is hardly a foreign word here at Lonesome Pine Hospital,” making note of the fact that LPH was named one of the top 100 hospitals in the nation two years ago. Shillito said the increasing demand for health care from residents of Big Stone Gap and the surrounding area is because of the hospital’s growing reputation for quality care by top-notch physicians and staff.

“More patients more than ever come here because they know they will get the best of care from great doctors and staff,” Shillito said. “And it’s time to improve again.”

Mountain Empire Community College President Terrance Suarez, who also serves as chairman of the LPH board, said the community is “excited about the next phase” of improvements at LPH.

Polahar said his hospital’s emergency department is building a reputation for fast, quality service second to none in the region.

Just prior to Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremonies, Polahar said a man on crutches was observing preparations for the event.

“He told me, ‘I don’t know what you people are doing around here, but this is the fastest emergency room I’ve ever been in,’” Polahar said.

He said the growing reputation in the community about top-notch emergency care is a tribute to the department’s hard-working staff, and while proud of patient turnaround times, “are we where we want to be? Not yet.”

Wise County Supervisor Virginia Meador, representing the Big Stone Gap district, said she found the LPH expansion “very exciting, as well as the progress we’re making across the county by forward-thinking. Health care in the region is certainly expanding, and that’s a good thing — a very good thing.”

Wellmont President and CEO Dr. Richard Salluzzo said LPH “continues to be a shining example of how to combine superior health care with customer service to ensure the best patient experience.”

Construction will begin in September. The current walk-in and ambulance entrance areas will be moved during construction, with a temporary side entrance to feature convenient parking for patients and clear signage for hospital visitors. Patients arriving for outpatient services such as X-rays and outpatient surgery will be able to enter from the main lobby, and parking areas will be designated to make hospital access convenient.

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