A new emergency department at Johnson Memorial Health in Franklin is seeing its first patients. The project is part of an overall $42 million investment that also includes new areas for outpatient services, physical therapy and orthopedics. Hospital leaders say the new ER was desperately needed to keep pace with community needs in the state’s third fastest-growing county.
In an interview with Business of Health Reporter Kylie Veleta, Johnson Memorial Chief Executive Officer Dr. David Dunkle said the hospital had to make a last minute change due to the pandemic.
“We were supposed to open in January of this year but there were some delays, which (with) a project that size isn’t unprecedented,” said Dunkle. “As COVID began to hit in early March, we were still quite some time from being done with the complete project. We originally were going to finish the lab area first, then medical imaging, then the ER. But we kind of talked about the fact that if we diverted all of resources just to the emergency department, could we get this area up and running but not as an emergency department, but as a COVID unit. And we did that.”
Dunkle says the effort allowed the emergency department to care for up to 25 COVID patients at one time in an isolated area, away from the main hospital with a different air handling system.
“It put people at ease because if you remember back in March, we didn’t know as much about COVID as we do now and people were afraid.”
Dunkle says a major goal for the health system was to keep care local and the growth the city of Franklin and all of Johnson County was putting a strain on healthcare for the community.
“We did a study back in 2016 with consultants who really talked about how the county was growing. And basically they said the hospital facilities weren’t big enough to keep up with the population growth. We really did not want people to leave our area and to have confidence that we could meet their needs.”
The hospital has partnered with Boone County Emergency Medicine to staff and manage the new ER. Dunkle says it has been important to intelligently invest in the hospital’s growth, even when margins are slim, especially for smaller hospitals.
“We’ve been very fiscally responsible for many years. We saved a lot money before building this project. We didn’t rely on tax dollars. So with margins being small, we do have to look at what’s the best things we can invest in.”