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ED Demand Grows in Denver Following CU Move

Emergency rooms across Denver are already feeling the impact of the University of Colorado Hospital's move to Aurora three months ago, hospital officials said.

Now, they're preparing for a possible surge in pediatric patients as Children's Hospital prepares to also move to the city east of Denver - this Saturday.

At Rose Medical Center, ambulance arrivals have soared. In August, the number of ambulance patients reached 634, up from 263 in August 2006, said Donald Lefkowits, director of the Rose emergency department.

Across town at Denver Health, the city's public safety-net hospital, emergency visits are up nearly 9 percent and in August the hospital had to divert one of every five ambulances to other hospitals for lack of a bed.

At two other Denver hospitals, Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center and St. Joseph, emergency visits are up 5 percent to 7 percent since the university hospital moved.

In the year before its June 14 move, University treated 25,000 emergency patients at its Denver hospital and about 30,000 at its Aurora facility.

It is now seeing about 5,000 people a month at its Aurora facility, said hospital spokeswoman Sarah Ellis.

That increase is primarily because the region east of Denver is growing so quickly, she said.

Changes in pediatrics

Now, this weekend's scheduled move of Children's Hospital is creating ripples of concern among the city's remaining emergency-care providers. Children's treated 44,069 emergency cases in 2006.

Denver Health is preparing for a 25 percent jump in pediatrics, said Denver Health chief operating officer Stephanie Thomas.

"This is going to be tricky," said Cindy Matthews, spokeswoman for West Metro Fire Department in Lakewood.

"For us to transport a patient to the new hospital would require an ambulance to be out of service for the rest of the community for about two hours," Matthews said.

"We only have eight ambulances, and we have days now when we have two or three ambulances heading to Children's," she said.

Rose, Denver Health and Presbyterian/St. Luke's are increasing emergency-department staffs and adding doctors and nurses - especially in pediatrics, hospital officials said.

St. Anthony Central Hospital in west Denver is holding steady. Officials said, however, it is poised to respond if Denver's children and adults start struggling to find emergency care.

Rose, in east Denver, split emergencies on the southeast side of the city with University until that hospital left, Lefkowits said.

For the approximately dozen extra patients who come into the Rose emergency room every day now, there are five new beds for a total of 29, a new ambulance bay and two new physicians, bringing the staffing to 14 doctors.

"Children's move, that's a little bit more unknown," Lefkowits said. "We expect some of our community pediatricians who used to use Children's are not going to want to head way out to Aurora to see their patients."

Katherine Archuleta, Mayor John Hickenlooper's senior policy adviser, has been meeting with hospital administrators, studying the potential impact of Children's and University's moves, and planning strategies to reduce the strain on the city's emergency rooms.

"We're asking, how do the remaining hospitals handle this? How do we provide patient care at the right time and the right place?" Archuleta said.

Hospitals plan to grow

At Denver Health, ongoing expansion projects and triage are helping, Thomas said.

Denver Health, which saw 91,584 people in its emergency room and urgent-care center in 2006, can route some patients now to the year-old women's and children's pavilion, she said.

The hospital also just launched a three-year project to add beds, hire more nurses and accommodate more patients throughout the hospital, Thomas said.

The buildup will continue to 2010, when St. Anthony Central moves south to Lakewood.

At St. Joseph - located next to Children's current site - emergency doctors and nurses treat about 135 patients a day, up about 5 percent since University left town, said Barb Jahn, vice president for operations.

Children's will maintain 16 nontrauma beds in St. Joseph, a hospital-within-a-hospital, and St. Joseph staff will likely direct some patients there, Jahn said.

"To be honest, we don't know how it will look yet. But it will be interesting," Jahn said.

Presbyterian/St. Luke's has seen a slight increase in emergency visits since University's move, and the hospital is planning for a significant increase once Children's leaves, said Angie Anania, assistant director of public affairs.

Presbyterian/St. Luke's also is planning to open a pediatric hospital in Denver - with an emergency department - by 2010, she said.

Meanwhile, Maureen Maxwell, who moved to east Denver in January, is learning to tolerate the sirens, which have drastically increased in number in the past few months.

"It doesn't exactly bother me," said Maxwell, who lived in a much noisier neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

"But it has made me really curious. And I have wondered, if I need to go to the emergency room, will I be able to get treatment?"

Staff writer Katy Human can be reached at 303-954-1910 or khuman@denverpost.com

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