| February 16, 2020

Northwestern Memorial to Spend $77.6M to Relieve ER Overcrowding

Nqaba Matshazi

Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets across the world. Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets across the world.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital is planning to spend $77.6 million on the construction of a building to connect its Feinberg and Galter pavilions and add new beds at the Galter Pavilion in downtown Chicago.

Documents filed with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board show that Northwestern Memorial plans to install a 24-bed intensive care unit on the 11th floor of the Galter Pavilion as well as one medical/surgical unit for the 12th floor with 28 inpatient beds and 12 observation beds. The project will add 28 medical/surgical beds at Galter but will reduce the number at Feinberg by three.

What the project entails

“Also part of this project is a three-story building connector from the Feinberg Pavilion to the Galter Pavilion on the 10th, 11th, and 12th floors. Because of the required placement of the connectors, one medical/surgical bed on each of the three floors in Feinberg and one observation floor on the 10th floor in Feinberg will be lost, therefore, resulting in the addition of a net 25 medical/surgical beds and 11 observation beds,” the documents show.

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Northwestern Memorial further explained that because the floors at Galter Pavilion had originally been constructed for business occupancy and had been used as physicians’ offices, there was significant infrastructure work that needed to be done to convert those floors into institutional occupancy.

If the proposal is approved, Northwestern Memorial hopes to complete the project in December 2022. This is Northwestern Memorial’s fourth such project in 20 years. A vote on whether the project should be given the green light is expected at the end of June.

Presently, Northwestern Memorial has 422 surgical/medical beds at Galter and Feinberg pavilions. It also has 108 medical/surgical beds at Prentice Women’s Hospital for Hematology/Oncology and Women’s Health, making a total of 530 beds on campus. With the proposed additions, Northwestern Memorial will have 555 medical/surgical beds.

The hospital has 91 ICU beds in Feinberg and 24 in Galter for a total of 115. This project will add a further 24, bringing the total to 139.

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Project to help reduce ambulance bypasses

Northwestern Memorial explained that it was embarking on the expansion because, annually, it has had to turn away 3,000 patients because it did not have enough beds. The hospital said it sometimes has had to turn away ambulances and redirect them to other hospitals because of insufficient space. In addition, the hospital said it has had to keep patients in the emergency department longer because it had too few inpatient and observation care beds.

In 2018, a Chicago Sun Times investigation revealed that Northwestern Memorial Hospital was closed to most ambulances for nearly an entire day 66 times and that within one five-day period, Northwestern Memorial was on bypass for all but two hours. A bypass or ambulance diversion, is a tactic hospitals use when emergency rooms get too crowded.

A report by the Illinois Department of Public Health showed that Northwestern Memorial Hospital diverted ambulances nearly 31 percent of the time during 2017, 2018 and the first half of 2019.

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In a warning letter to Northwestern Memorial, the Department of Public Health noted that the hospital had the highest cumulative total bypass hours when compared to all other Illinois hospitals with emergency departments. Northwestern Memorial hopes that its expansion project will help ensure that it does not have to revert to the emergency department bypass as often.

Northwestern Memorial is one of the top hospitals in the country. In 2019, it was ranked number 10 on the prestigious 2019-20 U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals Honor Roll, which recognized America’s top 20 hospitals. It was the only Illinois hospital to make the list.

This year, it was one of 21 Illinois hospitals to receive a five-star rating in the latest Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) ratings.

In 2018, an independent watchdog, Leapfrog Group named Northwestern Memorial one of seven Illinois hospitals ranked among the best in the United States.


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