St. Francis Watkins Centre opened Nov.1. Photo courtesy Doug Buerlein Photography
After only six years in operation, the emergency department at the Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center was approaching capacity. Designed to serve 40,000 patients in Chesterfield County and the surrounding area, it started to have efficiency challenges as the Chesterfield population increased almost 22 percent from 2000 to 2010.
"If we want to continue to meet the health care needs of this community, we needed to expand our emergency services," says Kevin Sheppard, vice president of ambulatory services for the Bon Secours Richmond Health System.
On Nov. 1, Bon Secours opened St. Francis Watkins Centre, Central Virginia's first free-standing emergency department, located about five miles from St. Francis Medical Center at the intersection of Midlothian Turnpike and State Route 288. The $30 million, 21,500-square-foot facility mainly treats patients from Midlothian and Powhatan County and includes 16 treatment rooms and a comprehensive diagnostic imaging center with a CT scanner, MRI and ultrasound technologies.
The site also houses the Comprehensive Women's Center, which offers bone-density scanning, mammography services and a breast-surgery practice. The project's second phase will open in February, bringing the medical space at Watkins Centre to 100,000 square feet on 16 acres. The second facility will provide extra medical office space for primary care, gynecology and obstetrics.
"It gives us the capacity to continue to grow as the community grows," Sheppard says of the site, which allows Bon Secours to see an additional 30,000 patients per year and will create about 100 new jobs.
Emergency-room visits are steadily rising nationwide, having increased 23 percent from 2000 to 2009, according to the American Hospital Association (AHA). Reasons for this include an aging population (Medicare tends to be a heavy user of emergency departments) and the fact that people are getting sicker.
"There's more chronic disease in the population than there's ever been before," says Caroline Rossi Steinberg, AHA vice president of trends analysis. "A lot of it relates to the obesity trend."
Steinberg adds that people who have lost their jobs and health insurance because of economic woes are less likely to manage chronic conditions in primary-care settings, allowing medical problems to escalate to situations where they need emergency care.
The economic climate in Chesterfield matches nationwide trends, Sheppard says. "As the economy has deteriorated, there are more people who put off preventive care and end up in emergency departments."
Bon Secours works to decrease reliance on emergency departments through free health-care services such as the Care-A-Van program, a mobile clinic that travels throughout greater Richmond to provide free primary, urgent and preventive health care.
In some rural areas, however, insufficient medical care is mainly an issue of proximity. In the western reaches of Goochland County, the closest hospital is more than 30 miles away.
The HCA Virginia Health System hopes to address that with an $11.2 million free-standing emergency center scheduled for completion in eastern Goochland early this year.
"For the fire and rescue people here in Goochland, there is a desire to not have to travel too far to take your patient," says Dr. Frank Bain, a family practitioner in Goochland. "It's going to be a benefit."
The first phase in development of the West Creek Medical Campus, a full-service hospital that is scheduled to be completed at the site in 2016, will serve as a safety net for the residents of Goochland, Henrico, Powhatan and Chesterfield counties, says Patrick Farrell, CEO of Henrico Doctors', Parham Doctors' and Retreat Doctors' hospitals. The 10,000-square-foot facility will have 12 patient-treatment areas, a CT scanner, X-ray equipment, a medical laboratory and a pharmacy.
Farrell adds that the facility, which will be located on a 60-acre site near the intersection of Route 288 and Tuckahoe Parkway, will improve access to emergency care, filling a gap in the region's health care delivery system.