For years, DeGraff Memorial Hospital faced an uncertain future. On Wednesday, a groundbreaking ceremony was held there to mark the start of an $8 million expansion that will double the size of its emergency department and, as hospital officials made clear, erase any worries about the North Tonawanda-based medical center's fate.
When finished in the fall of 2018, DeGraff's emergency department will grow from 4,800 square feet to about 10,000 square feet and be relocated to the east end of the hospital, facing the Twin City Highway. The larger facility will include 17 treatment bays, a trauma room, dedicated bariatric room, airborne isolation room and a decontamination room suitable for working with infectious diseases.
It will also include, as the head of DeGraff's emergency medicine explained, provide better accommodations for geriatric patients.
"We'll have non-glare lightning and slip-proof flooring," said Dr. Jill Pawlowski. "There's increased family space and larger signage with oversized lettering."
The hospital recorded approximately 15,500 emergency room visits in 2015, an increase of 1,500 cases from two years prior.
It's the first major renovation at the Niagara County hospital since the 1970s. But there are plans for future improvements to the hospital and its service through an initiative known as DeGraff 2020.
"As we continue to invest in DeGraff, we're going to invest in those outpatient services that are currently robust but growing," said Darcy Craven, president and chief executive officer of DeGraff Memorial Hospital. "We started delivering chemotherapy infusions here just in the last month. Residents in the Tonawandas who have cancer and need chemotherapy no longer have to travel for those services. They can come here to DeGraff to get that done."
DeGraff 2020 also calls for more focus on servives including wound care, outpatient services, imaging and lab work, gastrointenstinal health and rehabilitation.
The hospital was referred to by Craven and others as a "gateway" for the Tonawandas and southern Niagara County. It became part of the Kaleida Health System in 1998. Kaleida's president and CEO, Jody Lomeo, says it's time to focus not on the hospital's past but on its future.
"We came together four years ago. I remember being in the cafeteria with the staff and the first question was, 'was DeGraff going to close?'" Lomeo said. "We could put that to bed. Is DeGraff changing? Yes. Is it changing for the better? I would say the answer is yes. Are we here to serve this community? The answer is yes."