Kaweah Delta unveils expanded emergency department, awaits State approval to open

Kaweah Delta Medical Center today unveiled its newly-expanded Emergency Department, scheduled to open later this month, to help better serve patients and meet the needs of the more than 90,000 patients seeking care every year in one of the busiest emergency departments in the State.

“This expansion has been critically needed for a number of years and long-awaited by us and the community,” said Gary Herbst, Kaweah Delta’s Chief Executive Officer. “Emergency care is first and foremost what the community expects from us, but we know it has been frustrating for them, and for us, because of overcrowding. With the opening of this new ‘Zone 5’ area of our Emergency Department, we will now have an additional 24 exam rooms in which to care for our Emergency Department patients.”

This final phase of the expansion effort has modernized, expanded, and improved Kaweah Delta’s Emergency Department, the only trauma center between Bakersfield and Fresno. In just two years, the Department has more than doubled in size, growing from 32 to 73 beds, which includes:

  • 48 beds for general emergency care (with 4 beds designated for pediatric patients and 4 beds for dialysis patients);
  • 9 beds for behavioral health;
  • 8 beds for critical care; and,
  • An 8-bed area where the team can care for patients with minor illnesses and injuries.

Additionally, this final expansion increases the waiting area from seating 65 people to seating more than 100. The expansive waiting area also features flat screen TVs that will help improve communication with patients and visitors by providing them with a unique QR code so they can receive real-time updates on the course of their care. For example, by looking at the board, a patient or visitor will know whether lab results are in or whether their loved one is getting an MRI. Currently, due to COVID-19, once an Emergency Department patient is placed in a room they are allowed to have only one symptom-free visitor.

On April 19, Kaweah Delta will be fully prepared to host a site visit by the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”; licensing). Once CDPH approves the project, patients and visitors will enter the Emergency Department through a separate entrance. Immediately upon entry, all patients and visitors will walk through metal detectors to promote a safer environment for patients, visitors and staff. Exceptions will be made for more critical patients.

The multi-phase project began in 2018, but throughout, portions of the project were completed and put into use, allowing the Emergency Department team to focus care on more critical patients. Such areas included an eight-bed area (“Zone 6”) that was put into use in 2019, allowing the team to more quickly screen and discharge patients with minor illnesses and injuries, along with a new nine-bed area (“Zone 4”) put into use in 2020. Before the nine-bed area was constructed, it had previously been “shelled” space that was created during construction of the Acequia Wing.  While parts of the Acequia Wing opened up back in 2009, the shelled space was set aside for a future expansion of the Emergency Department when it would be needed to meet growing patient demand.

“We believe that the expansion and modernization of the Emergency Department will also bring more medical providers, nurses, techs and other staff members to care for patients in the Emergency Department,” Herbst said. In preparation of the opening, Kaweah Delta has worked to fill openings with registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses and more. Next week, Kaweah Delta will continue that work at a job fair in Visalia, where it will be looking to hire six RN positions, as well as an ED technician and a program registrar.

Dr. Sakona Seng, Medical Director of Kaweah Delta’s Emergency Department, said the expansion will allow the team to accomplish its mission to always deliver the best care.

“We’re really excited to see this project head toward completion. Our patients deserve the highest quality of care that we can possibly deliver,” Dr. Seng said. “A lot of that, in the past, has been defined by space. There have been days of working out in hall chairs, hallways, or even at times in winter seasons in tents in our parking lots. All of us on the physician side recognize that’s not how we want to continue. Our mission is always to deliver the best care that we can to our patients.”

Herbst said Kaweah Delta will continue to work to reduce the number of visits to the emergency department for non-emergency care by opening clinics and urgent care centers in areas of Tulare County where they are needed. This week, Kaweah Delta opened the Tulare Health Clinic, the latest addition to Kaweah Delta’s growing clinic network. Each of Kaweah Delta’s clinic locations – Exeter, Lindsay, Woodlake and Dinuba – were intentionally placed there after studying Emergency Department volumes to determine where people were coming from to Kaweah Delta’s Emergency Department (ED) for primary care-related conditions. City of Tulare residents visit Kaweah Delta’s ED more than 10,000 times per year. Nearly 2,000 of those visits are for lower-acuity chronic conditions that could more appropriately be provided in a primary care setting.

“The goal is that truly what’s coming here is emergency so we have the physical capacity to take care of emergent patients in a very efficient way,” he said.

Kaweah Delta’s Emergency Department was originally built to serve 36,000 patients a year and was last expanded in 2009 to serve 72,000 patients a year. It is one of three emergency departments serving nearly 500,000 people in Tulare County and the greater region and sees in excess of 250 patients a day on a regular basis. Of the close to 2,500 trauma patients seen in its Emergency Department each year, Kaweah Delta admits more than 1,200 of them to its acute medical center.

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