Clara Maass ER upgrades in the works

BELLEVILLE –

Clara Maass Medical Center / RWJ Barnabas Health has been green-lighted to undertake additions and alterations to its emergency room by the Belleville Zoning Board of Adjustment.

This project comes on the heels of another infrastructure improvement with April’s opening of an 87,000-square foot building housing a new main entrance and lobby, patient registration area, retail pharmacy and new 32-bed ICU with private rooms.

How the new construction will factor into Belleville’s efforts to assess – and tax – parts of the hospital property remains to be seen. Litigation on the tax issue is ongoing.

At the July 6 zoning hearing, the hospital, represented by local attorney Robert Gaccione, presented its application for site plan review and bulk variances in support of physical changes to the ER.

Its chief witness, Dominic Segalla, hospital COO/CFO, told the zoning commissioners that the proposed modifications to the ER will help the hospital improve its delivery service to the ER’s pediatrics and “behaviorial (mental) health” patients.

Of the approximately 80,000 persons seen annually at the ER, about 20,000 are pediatrics cases and about 10,000 are behavioral health patients, Segalla said.

Currently, Segalla said, those two categories of clients “are commingled in one area” and the hospital would prefer to separate one from the other.

Additional beds to be installed in that section of the ER dealing with mental patients will be used for “observation” of those patients rather than for “admission,” he said.

When those patients come into the ER, they are searched for any items that may end up being harmful to themselves and/or others, Segalla said.

Security of behavioral health patients was an issue in March 2012 when an inspection by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported a violation of “patient rights: care in safe setting” in that certain patients weren’t given “security/safetyround checks” during different time periods. Since then, there has been no further indications of any lapses.

Part of the zoning board’s discussion on the application covered provision for temporary parkers outside the ER.

Mario Ianelli, the project’s site manager, told the board that the hospital wanted to “reverse the flow of traffic to have the ‘drop-off’ on the passenger side,” so as not to conflict with ambulances enroute to the ER.

Of the daily average of 200 to 225 ER visitors, an average of 30 to 35 arrive via EMS, according to Segalla.

To accommodate drivers dropping off infirm patients at the ER, the hospital offered assurances that it would reserve four curbside parallel parking spacesfor that purpose.

Additionally, space would be earmarked in the ambulance garage to accommodate a police vehicle transporting a prisoner for treatment.

Because the project is still out to bid, the hospital has not disclosed the estimated construction cost, according to project architect Kristin Blake.

If all goes as planned, the hospital hopes to complete the work on the ER by the first quarter of 2019, Blake said.

No state certificate of need is required for the project, she said.

– Ron Leir

 

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.