The need for emergency care is growing, according to Guthrie officials.

Last year, the health care organization saw nearly 36,000 emergency department visits, exceeding what was its capacity to accommodate 28,000 visits annually.

On Wednesday, Guthrie officials came together with community supporters and others to unveil an expansion to the Robert Packer Hospital’s emergency department that is designed to increase the efficiency of treatment with a state-of-the-art facility while creating a more private environment for those being cared for.

According to Guthrie President and CEO Dr. Joseph Scopelliti, the increase in emergency department patients is due to three factors: an increase in the aging population of the Twin Tiers, patients turning more to the emergency department for acute care due to a lower number of primary care physicians available, and changing health care services throughout the region bringing in patients from farther away.

The primary care physician shortage is attributed to both the increasing number of elderly patients and more medical students across the country opting to focus their studies in other areas, according to Scopelliti. While that shortage is being supplemented by nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, capacity has fallen short of demand.

“We’ve been working really hard to recruit primary care physicians. We have a residency in internal medicine and another one in family medicine, so we’re trying to build our own cadre. But at the same time, primary care physicians in the area are generally older than the national average and so they are retiring at a greater rate.”

The new department was also designed to house its own three-year Emergency Medicine Residency Program, which began on July 1.

“This renovation not only improves the look and feel of the space, but it also provides all preparations necessary to better accommodate patients’ needs, keep wait times low, and support our staff in doing their jobs more efficiently,” said Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital President Joseph Sawyer. “It further enhances our trauma care as we continue to be a referral destination for other hospitals in our region while also being the first choice for emergency care for our families, friends and neighbors.”

Being state-of-the-art, officials also noted that it will enhance the hospital’s ability to recruit and retain top talent.

“These are exciting times for emergency medicine at Guthrie,” said Dr. Marc Harris, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine. He added that Guthrie’s Level II Trauma Center covers 11 counties and 10,000 square miles.

“The new space not only increases our capacity, but all of the rooms are 33 percent larger, allowing space for our patients, their families and our caregiver teams,” said Harris. “The rooms are also all private, so it allows for those sensitive conversations to occur.”

With construction currently wrapping up, the new emergency department will officially open on July 17.

For more photos of the new emergency department, check out our website, www.thedailyreview.com.

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I am the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily and Sunday Review.