Building better care

Posted: September 25th, 2015 | Features, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Jeff Clemetson | Editor

Local hospital expansions improve health care for East County residents

Recent, current and future expansion projects at local hospitals are making big changes in the health care options for East County residents. New construction and improvement projects at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, Alvarado Hospital and even the new Kaiser Permanente Hospital being built in Kearny Mesa are providing changes in a wide variety of health fields. Emergency room care, heart care, spine and joint care, mental health and more will all see improvements over the next couple years.

Sharp Grossmont Hospital

The most visible of the recent hospital expansions is the $60 million, taxpayer-funded Heart and Vascular Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, which will be housed in a three-story, 71,000-square-foot building that is currently under construction. The Heart and Vascular Center will expand the hospital’s surgery capabilities with four new cardiac catheterization labs and four multipurpose, hybrid procedural rooms that can support general surgery, minimally-invasive surgery, image-guided surgery or endovascular interventional procedures, according to a hospital press statement.

Construction continues on Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s new Heart and Vascular Center. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

Construction continues on Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s new Heart and Vascular
Center. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

“The hybrid operating rooms will allow us to do very complex cases,” said Scott Evans, CEO of Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “The technology in the rooms will have instant imaging which will allow surgery to keep going instead of having to stop, get images and then consult specialists.”

Evans said the hospital expansions both serve existing patients needs as well as future needs.

“We are the busiest emergency room in San Diego,” he said. “And since we are the busiest, we need, today, more space to take care of our East County residents.”

In addition to more space and higher-tech equipment, Evans said Sharp Grossmont will be recruiting even more “top notch talent” to work in the new Heart and Vascular Center.

The Heart and Vascular Center is being built on a tight site within the hospital campus, adjacent to the hospital’s existing operating rooms and cardiac catheterization labs. The construction for the center is already underway and is expected to be completed 18 to 24 months from now, said Evans who described that part of the construction project as “Phase 2.”

“Phase 1” of the expansion, which includes the pharmacy and labs, will be completed before the end of the year, he said.

Although there are no concrete expansion plans after the new center is built, Evans said Sharp Grossmont Hospital has a five-year “master facilities” plan that will look at how the hospital can expand the number of in-patient beds.

Alvarado Hospital

Guests at the Spine Center opening are shown the robotic-assisted knee surgery technology. (Photo courtesy of Alvarado Hospital)

Guests at the Spine Center opening are shown the robotic-assisted knee surgery technology.
(Photo courtesy of Alvarado Hospital)

At Alvarado Hospital, the new Advanced Spine and Joint Institute is the first of several planned expansions that will improve care for its patients. The new spine and joint facility, which opened July 23, replaces the old one with not only improved physical design but a new care patient care model as well.

“Our new program is modeled after the nationally-renowned Marshall Steele program and is the only Marshall Steele spine and joint program in San Diego,” said Robin Gomez, Alvarado Hospital administrator.

The Marshall Steele program was created to be patient-friendly, with a focus on comfort and information for the patient. Patients wear comfortable clothes instead of hospital gowns. The hallways and rooms are decorated with landscape art. Not only does the patient unit incorporate healing design, but everything from patient education to clothing to rehabilitation to reunion lunches are created to ensure optimal outcomes for patients undergoing spine surgery or joint reconstruction.

The improved joint and spine institute replaces Alvarado’s previous one which was already known for having “amazing physicians and a highly specialized team,” Gomez said.

“I’ve worked in health care for many years and I’ve found it is best to work to build the strengths of your hospital and to the needs of the community,” she said.

Alvarado Hospital is working toward the needs of the aging baby-boomers of the community with its next planned expansion ­— a geriatric mental health facility that will serve the needs of people who are 65 and older who suffer from chronic mental health conditions and are also in need of medical care, she said.

The new geriatric mental health center will have about 30 beds and will be located on the third floor of the hospital’s west tower. The facility is expected to open sometime in the next three to four months, she said.

Mindy Mondoux, RN, stands in a new patient room in the new Spine Center. (Photo courtesy of Alvarado Hospital)

Mindy Mondoux, RN, stands in a new patient room in the new Spine Center.
(Photo courtesy of Alvarado Hospital)

Another big change coming to Alvarado Hospital is the expansion of its emergency room facilities. Currently, the hospital only has room for 12 beds for the roughly 2,000 emergency room visits it receives per month. The emergency room expansion is long overdue, said Gomez who called the current 12-room ER a “shoebox.”

“As a community hospital we have to change with the times,” she said. “For a 300-plus-bed hospital to only have a 12-room ER — we had to make a change.” The new emergency room will have 31 to 33 beds and will help serve the county’s emergency needs. “Anytime you can add beds in the county safety net, it’s a good thing,” she said.

Kaiser Permanente

At Kaiser Permanente’s San Diego Medical Center on Zion Avenue in Grantville, a multimillion-dollar upgrade is already under way “to improve the environment and experience for [its] patients,” said Donna Durckel, a spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente San Diego.

Everything form hospital rooms, waiting areas, the cafeteria and even the elevators is getting a beautifying facelift to create a more pleasant atmosphere. “What the patients see and experience will be brighter, fresher and newer,” she said.

Although geographically not in East County, the new Kaiser Permanente Central Hospital being built in Kearny Mesa will have a very positive impact on health care for Kaiser patients at the Central Hospital, as well.

The most drastic improvement that will come to the Medical Center when the Central Hospital is finished will be the addition of more private rooms. Because the Medical Center is currently Kaiser’s only major hospital facility in San Diego, many of the rooms are shared. However, the plan is to have around 266 private rooms after the upgrades to the Medical Center are complete and after the new Central Hospital is finished, Durckel said.

Along with beautification and improved comfort through private rooms, the Medical Center will also see an upgrade in technology that will coincide with the construction of the Central Hospital which is being touted as the “hospital of the future,” Durckel said. “A lot of our high-tech upgrades in the new hospital will be implemented in Zion,” she said, referring to the Medical Center’s nickname after the street it is located on.

The high-tech upgrades include advanced communications for staff that include iPhones so that doctors can quickly send photos and other information back and forth to each other for more immediate feedback. The Medical Center will also be totally wireless, she said.

When the Central Hospital is completed, the Medical Center will also be able to offer more enhanced care in the fields of hematology/oncology, ophthalmology, orthopedics and plastic surgery.

—Write to Jeff Clemetson at

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