TOWNSHEND -- Vermont's smallest hospital may soon have a larger emergency room.
Grace Cottage Hospital administrators are laying groundwork for an estimated $2.5 million project that would increase the number of emergency beds from three to six and change the way patients enter the facility.
The idea is to "handle more patients more efficiently," said Dr. Richard Meyer, emergency department director and Grace Cottage's chief medical officer.
"I'm really excited about these plans," Meyer told a meeting of the hospital's auxiliary this week.
Meyer said the emergency room, staffed by one doctor and one nurse with assistance available from elsewhere in the hospital, sees about 3,000 patients annually. That number is growing.
"I'm sure it will be more this year, because it's up already," Meyer said.
He noted that, due to the emergency department's small size, any number of patients arriving at or around the same time can lead to delays.
"Too often . . . people have had to wait," he said.
Also, Meyer said the area's substantial older population leads to medical assessment and treatment that "tends to be more complicated" and more time-consuming.
So administrators began designing a solution after landing a $75,000 grant from the Holt Fund.
Plans call for an emergency department footprint that would expand partially into the hospital's parking lot, creating space for three additional beds.
"That would help us a great deal to be able to see more patients at once," Meyer said.
Also included in the proposal are dedicated emergency room and ambulance entrances. Crews would build a new main hospital entrance nearby.
Currently, "almost everybody comes in through this entrance," Meyer said, pointing toward the emergency room door.
"It's the gateway to the hospital," he said. "It's the way most people know the hospital."
Construction, though, may be a few years off. There is no funding in place for the project at this point, and administrators will be seeking community support.
"We may start in mid-2013 for fundraising," said Andrea Seaton, Grace Cottage's planning and development vice president. "We need to determine how much will be fundraising and how much will be borrowed."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.