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Utah Center Opens as Independent Emergency Department

Draper - There's no hospital attached to the new Lone Peak Emergency Center, but the freestanding emergency room is equipped to handle any trauma, from mass casualties to a fallen hiker.

Out back are ambulance bays and a helipad. There's an on-site imaging center and laboratory, 10 trauma suites, including one for psychiatric patients -- and, for now, an empty waiting room.

"For us, it's like having 10 more beds," said Julie Fox, an emergency physician who will run the satellite ER for St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City and its parent, MountainStar hospital chain. "But for the people in and around Draper, it means no longer having to drive 12 miles for emergency care."

Located off State Street and 11800 South, the Lone Peak Emergency Center opened on Tuesday and will function around the clock as part of St. Mark's. It is Utah's only standalone emergency department, a low-overhead business model popular in regions of the country where shrinking populations have led to hospital closures.

And it's part of a trend across the valley to boost the number of patients seen in emergency rooms, despite a push by public health officials to steer people to primary care facilities to reduce health care costs.

An emergency room is the most expensive place to provide treatment. It's also where hospitals can lose money. Roughly half of the patients who need help paying their bills -- a hospital's charity care and bad debt cases -- come through the emergency department.

But emergency rooms lure new patients, and with steady growth predicted for the south valley, MountainStar figured a satellite ER was a "right-sized" move.

"This is about delivering quality care to a region that needs it. As we looked into this we asked, 'What's the right distance for someone to drive to deliver a baby?'" said Mark Meadows, the hospital chain's business strategist. "It's not a loss leader. If we were going to lose money on this, we wouldn't be here."

Other hospitals -- Iasis Healthcare's Salt Lake Regional, Jordan Valley, Davis and Pioneer Valley -- have started advertising ER wait times on websites.

Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, in Salt Lake City, recently renovated its emergency department, adding five patient rooms.

"We had a small, cramped, old emergency room. Volume was low," said Salt Lake Regional emergency room physician Mark Flammer, who is board chairman of a group of ER physicians contracted to work in Iasis hospitals. "The thought was, let's improve the whole atmosphere of the place. People will be more inclined to come there because it's improved."

The hospital also boosted efficiency, with staff on a daily basis assessing the average amount of door-to-doctor time, he said.

Flammer noted the emergency room can be the entrance to ongoing care, with patients referred to doctors who practice at the hospital.

Plus, "It's also a matter of trying to attract people with true emergencies -- ones that are best seen in the [emergency department] because of the prompt evaluation and treatment that we can give," he wrote in an e-mail.

If emergency rooms are the bait, then the best fishing looks to be in the south valley. Intermountain Healthcare recently opened a hospital in Riverton, with Primary Children's Medical Center building its first inpatient satellite at that hospital. The hospital chain also expanded Alta View's emergency room in 2009.

And the University of Utah expects to start construction in July on a 208,000-square-foot health center in South Jordan near Daybreak that will include a free-standing emergency department.

The goal is to be where patients live, said Rob Lloyd, executive director for ambulatory services and community clinics for University of Utah Health Care. He expects the center to draw significant new business, "just because the population is growing so much out there."

The new Lone Peak Emergency Center will be one of only two serving south valley populations east of I-15, say MountainStar executives who have been monitoring growth there for three years.

First responders say the satellite will help them react quicker to 911 calls and return to the field.

"One of the things we always look to improve is the time it takes to transport a patient to the healing hands of a doctor. Those minutes save lives," said Capt. Jason Nicholl, a paramedic with the Salt Lake County Fire Department. Lone Peak patients who require surgery or hospitalization will need to be stabilized and transported elsewhere. But Fox predicts that will be "only 10 percent of our patients."

The satellite also shares space with the Lone Peak Medical Office Building. And come June, patients will find primary care doctors and specialists there.



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