Tired of long lines at the emergency room? Your wait time could soon get shorter

Demand for emergency services causes Navicent to bring in mobile unit

The Medical Center Navicent Health brings in mobile unit from North Carolina to expand emergency services.
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The Medical Center Navicent Health brings in mobile unit from North Carolina to expand emergency services.

Next time you visit Navicent Health’s emergency room, you might face a shorter wait time.

The hospital opened a new mobile emergency unit on Pine Street Thursday morning to keep up with increasing volume in recent months.

“We had such a large influx of volume over the last few months,” said Dr. John Wood, medical director of the Emergency Center at The Medical Center, Navicent Health. “We really needed to be able to expand rapidly to be able to accommodate those patients and accommodate them timely.”

Waiting times vary from day to day, Woods said, often with an uptick on Mondays. But patients wait an average of 42 minutes to be seen by a doctor, according to ProPublica’s ER Wait Watcher tool. The Georgia average is 31 minutes, and the national average is 27 minutes.

With the height of flu season around the corner, Woods said, the hospital decided to rent the mobile hospital unit to get ahead of the coming rush.

The 1,000-square-foot mobile hospital unit contains 14 treatment stations, including a private space in the back with room for two operating beds. It’s equipped with X-ray and ultrasound machines, ventilators, medications and all other resources available in the main emergency room.

“Everything that you could get inside [the hospital], you can get in here,” Wood said.

The mobile emergency room opened for service Thursday at 8 a.m. and will operate 24 hours a day. Patients must first present to the main emergency department at 770 Pine Street and will then be transported by vehicle to the mobile unit across the street as needed.

The mobile hospital, called the Carolinas MED-1, is owned by Atrium Health, a health care system based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Navicent Health CEO Ninfa Sanders said the rental was not related to the health care systems’ plans to merge. The two parties have not finalized their agreement yet.

“This is not because we are already together,” Saunders said. “Atrium Health would do this for any community that has a need. We just happened to be able to ask them first.”

Atrium Health has deployed its Carolinas MED-1 unit at hospitals across the country, often following natural disasters, such as Hurricane Florence. Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta rented the mobile hospital last flu season to help with overflow, as well.

Navicent Health will reevaluate the need for the unit every 30 days, and Woods said he expects it to stay for two to three months. In the meantime, the city block of New Street between Pine Street and Plum Street Lane will be closed to traffic.

Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/smax1996 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.