Unveiling a major transformation at Allegheny General Hospital
Angela Costa, AGH's director of the nursing division, explains the set-up of a room at Allegheny General Hospital's new neurosurgical ICU.
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To step from Allegheny General Hospital's current neurosurgical intensive care unit to its new 22-bed neurosurgical ICU four floors above is to cross a generation of medical care.
Downstairs, patients recovering from neurosurgery lie in beds, separated in the 12 bays by only a curtain and a few feet of space that precludes much sense of privacy. Because of the cramped quarters, families sometimes spend hours in a crowded waiting room down the hall until visiting hours start.
Beginning next week, those patients will be in spacious, family-friendly private rooms on the seventh floor equipped with movable consoles that can accommodate CT scanners and other medical equipment. Large windows offer a view of the hospital's North Side neighborhood, rather than the current unit's panorama of a parking garage wall. A new 24-bed progressive care unit for patients after leaving the ICU is just down the hall.
The grand opening of the Peter Jannetta Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit next week follows the January opening on the 12th floor of an equally aesthetic unit for cardiovascular and heart transplant patients, also all private rooms and also with a progressive care unit on the same floor.
"The physical structure is just much nicer to be in," said cardiovascular surgeon Bob Moraca, adding that not only patients, but also families and staff benefit. While too soon to tell for sure, he said that since the new unit opened: "Our general perception is that there's a shorter length of stay. It really improves a patient's recovery."
The larger question is how much AGH's sparkling new facilities will help parent West Penn Allegheny Health System's financial recovery.
The new construction -- which includes adding 96 private patient rooms over the past 18 months -- is being paid for with a $60 million bond issue from 2007 specifically earmarked for capital investment. That money must be spent this year.
After Dec. 31, said chief operating officer Duke Rupert, money for those kinds of expenditures would have to come from hospital operations.
While AGH has operated in the black, it's not been profitable enough to take on major capital projects.
The health system as a whole may end up posting a $60 million operating loss for the just completed fiscal year.
That's why a planned affiliation with the region's largest insurer, Highmark, is so critical to West Penn Allegheny's future, says a local health care economist. On June 28, the region's largest insurer announced its intention to acquire the financially troubled WPAHS, and the two are currently working out details of the deal.
"Only Highmark can save them," said Steve Foreman, associate professor of health administration and economics at Robert Morris University and a former hospital administrator himself. He sees the new units as "a real plea to their high-end neurosurgeons and cardiovascular physicians to hang around."
Judy Zedreck, chief nursing officer for AGH, believes that the new units will not only keep current medical staff but will be a drawing card to bring in new physicians -- which, in turn, means more patients. Declining patient volume has been a concern for WPAHS officials, with its January-through-March numbers down nearly 10 percent from a year earlier.
"It will be important that we extend our physician base," said Ms. Zedreck.
They believe that the new units are an important step in that direction. During an open house celebration Monday, Greg Burfitt, president and CEO of both AGH and West Penn Hospital, talked about how the configuration of the new units would help the flow of surgical patients during their stay, cutting down wait times and speeding their recovery.
Another component of that is a new post-anesthesia recovery room that can hold 24 patients, which will free up operating rooms more quickly. Outpatient surgical patients will now get to the ambulatory surgery unit, from which they'll be discharged, more than two hours sooner.
"What we're trying to do is unscramble the hospital," said Mr. Burfitt.
Perhaps more importantly, the new units give the health system something to cheer about after riding out waves of discouraging financial news the past three years.
"With an improved patient experience, it's only going to attract more patients," said Mr. Rupert.
First Published August 3, 2011 12:00 am