UAB seeks to expand emergency department

Expanding UAB Hospital
Expanding UAB Hospital
Published: Apr. 20, 2023 at 11:15 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - UAB Hospital’s emergency department has become so overcrowded, the department chair says doctors and nurses sometimes have to treat their patients in the hallways.

That’s why the hospital is seeking a permanent expansion of its emergency department, on top of the temporary expansion in the works right now.

The hospital is facing what it calls ‘unprecedented demand’, with ER visits up 20% and hospitalizations up 25%.

Emergency Department Chair Dr. Marie-Carmelle Elie says over the past several years, the ER staff has been treating a growing number of older people with illnesses requiring more complex care and longer hospital stays.

“Whereas perhaps 20 years ago, most people would come to the hospital with pneumonia, a fractured extremity, or a urinary tract infection. And perhaps because of their age or because of their other medical conditions, they would have to be admitted to the hospital for two or three days”, says Dr. Elie.

“Instead, many people are presenting with a pneumonia, sepsis, or septic shock where their heart is now affected as a consequence of that. They’re presenting with altered medication, so they’re confused and then they have a kidney dysfunction. So, because several organs are impacted, we’re finding that these patients have to remain in the hospital not for two or three days, but they often have to stay in the hospital for several days, if not weeks.”

Dr. Elie says that they’re also having to deal with people who often cannot get the mental health resources they need.

“There are patients with behavioral health emergencies that have other conditions as well, medical conditions, and it does make it even more complex to have these patients present in the hospital. Again, days and weeks before they can leave the hospital occupying beds, that unfortunately also need to be utilized for patients that are coming through the emergency department every hour.”

UAB says while the emergency department’s $8 million temporary expansion was approved by the UA Board of Trustees last month, they still have to approve the proposed $73 million permanent expansion which would almost add 60 new treatment spaces.

In the meantime, Dr. Elie says the department will work to offer the best care possible, despite not always having the space and privacy they would like to provide patients.

“It is challenging for us, and I think that we all find it frustrating. We don’t believe it’s the care that our patients deserve, which is why we are really coordinating with all of our stakeholders, and our partners, to make sure that we can create better spaces for all of our patients and ensure that everybody has access to care when they arrive to our emergency department.”

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