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California’s second busiest emergency room to double in size

The Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center will debut expanded emergency services in 2024. Pictured, South Sacramento Medical Center leaders joined Emergency Department physicians and staff to sign the final beam to be placed atop the 42,000-square-foot addition.

Rapid population growth and patient demand are driving a 42,000-square-foot emergency department expansion at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, doubling its size.

The 4-year expansion, expected to be complete in the spring of 2024, will bring the number of patient treatment bays from 53 to 88, said Scott Siler, Kaiser Permanente Project Manager for National Facilities Services.

The South Sacramento Emergency Department treated about 115,000 patients in 2021. The facility, which is also a designated trauma center, was second in California in terms of patient visits in 2020, according to the latest numbers available from the California Health and Human Services Agency. It is second only to the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in the Los Angeles area.

Andrew Elms, MD, South Sacramento Emergency Department chief, said demand for emergency services in the area has grown with an increase in population.

“When I first started here in 2007, our annual patient volume was 65,000 and in 2019 we hit 134,000, but we hadn’t really expanded that much,” said Dr. Elms. “So, we doubled the number of our patients since I started, but because we improved our processes, our wait times are dramatically lower.”

Population and poor health drive growth

From 2010 to 2020, Sacramento County’s population grew by about 13% to 1.6 million, according to the United States Census Bureau, which is more than double the 6% growth rate of California as a whole.

Dr. Elms said in addition to growing population, the South Sacramento Emergency Department sees a high number of patients because people in the area are sicker than many other areas in Northern California. There is a higher rate of heart failure than surrounding areas, a high population needing emergency psychiatric care, and a higher disease burden in general.

“All that brings people to our doors,” said Dr. Elms. “During the latest COVID-19 surge in January, we sometimes had up to 155 patients at a time.”

Dr. Elms said he expects demand to continue an upward trend as the current COVID-19 surge recedes.  

“People have put off preventive care during the pandemic, so we expect to see more patients who are sicker due to delayed disease management,” he said.

The project will incorporate a new pharmacy near the patient discharge area to make getting medicine easier. And there is space for a project that would incorporate more efficient radiology services for quick imaging turnaround “which should drive a lot of efficiency and further decrease the wait time,” Dr. Elms added.

“Everyone who comes to the ED is concerned and most are in pain, so reducing wait times and expediting care really improves the experience,” said Dr. Elms. “And that’s a very big element we are incorporating in this expansion.”




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