Steward investing in emergency rooms as way to win patients

At Morton Hospital in Taunton, a larger emergency department means less noise and more privacy for patients.
At Morton Hospital in Taunton, a larger emergency department means less noise and more privacy for patients.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

TAUNTON — The first thing Kim Bassett noticed when she stepped inside Morton Hospital’s new emergency department was the noise. Actually — the lack of it.

“You really can’t tell there are 37 patients in the ER right now,” said Bassett, president of the hospital.

Morton’s emergency department had been a loud place, with patients on stretchers cramped into shared rooms, even spilling into hallways. But last week the hospital opened a new $25 million emergency department with 43 private rooms, doubling the size of the old department. The larger space, designed to give caregivers more room to work and patients more privacy, concealed that the department on Thursday afternoon was actually pretty full.


“This is a much better climate for our patients,” Bassett said.

The project is the fifth emergency department redesign at hospitals owned by Steward Health Care System, the Boston for-profit hospital chain, and part of a strategy by Steward and other providers not only to improve emergency services, but also to respond to the competition for patients from other hospitals and new rivals such as urgent care centers.

In Burlington, Lahey Hospital and Medical Center is building a new emergency department with a helipad for $90 million. Milford Regional Medical Center plans to open its new emergency facility this month, part of a $54 million addition to its campus.

“Emergency departments are the front door to the hospital,” said Dr. Jay A. Kaplan, president-elect of the American College of Emergency Physicians, a professional association headquartered in Irving, Texas. “[Patients’] impression in the emergency department is going to affect how they perceive their entire hospital stay.”

The emergency department at Morton sees about 51,000 patients a year, or 140 a day, making it one of the busiest in the Steward network of nine Eastern Massachusetts hospitals. At 41,000 square feet, the new facility is divided into four areas, or “pods,” that separate patients based on the severity of their illnesses. Those with minor issues, such as colds or sprains, stay in a clinic near the front. Only the sickest patients, such as those injured in car crashes, are moved to treatment rooms in the back. A section off to the side is for patients with mental health issues.


The upgrades are part of Steward’s efforts to attract more patients to community hospitals rather than lose them to larger and more expensive teaching hospitals. Steward has redesigned emergency departments at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton , Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, and Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River.

A renovation at Carney Hospital in Dorchester is also underway.

These hospitals’ emergency departments were built 20 or 30 years ago, said Dr. Mark D. Pearlmutter, vice president of emergency network services at Steward. “Health care has changed dramatically . . . ” he said. “Patients want to go to a place that’s fresh, new, clean.”

The upgrades have helped boost patient numbers at the emergency departments 6 to 14 percent, he said. Statewide, emergency department visits have been relatively flat, according to state data.

Milford Regional Medical Center also more than doubled the size of its emergency department, building 50 patient rooms. Milford gets 55,000 to 60,000 emergency visits every year, said hospital president Edward J. Kelly.

“So many of our patients, that’s the first place they experience in the hospital,” Kelly said. “That’s where a huge percentage of our admissions come from.”


Steward spent $25 million on the new emergency room at Morton Hospital.
Steward spent $25 million on the new emergency room at Morton Hospital.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached atpriyanka.mccluskey@globe.com . Follow her on Twitter @Priyanka_Dayal.