Johnson Memorial Hospital opens new ER that served as temporary COVID-19 unit

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JOHNSON COUNTY — Officials at Johnson Memorial Health opened their recently-constructed emergency room to the public Monday morning.

The new ER, part of Johnson Memorial Hospital’s $47 million expansion, was originally meant to open in January. Construction delays pushed the opening date back to April. However, before that opening could happen, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a sudden course change in March.

“We put all our efforts into finishing that COVID unit, and did it in just about a week’s time,” said Dr. David Dunkle, President and CEO of Johnson Memorial Health.

Instead of finishing the emergency room and opening it to the public, the space was quickly opened as a designated COVID-19 unit capable of housing up to 22 inpatients in isolation. Over the course of the pandemic, the total number of inpatients with COVID-19 at JMH has peaked at seven. It has gone down to zero and was at three as of Monday, Dunkle said.

Several weeks ago, JMH officials made the decision to move the COVID unit to the second floor of the hospital’s older building.

“We repurposed our former ICU space into a COVID unit,” Dunkle said. “We were able to create six full isolation rooms. And we moved our former ICU to our main medical surgical tower on our third floor.”

If needed, Dunkle said more beds in isolation can be added to the COVID unit of the old building.

Opening the new emergency department after moving the COVID unit to the old building meant intense cleaning of the new facility, Dunkle said.

“When we moved the COVID patients out, we had to decontaminate,” he said. “It took a lot of time to make sure the HVAC unit was totally clean and then cleaning all the rooms.”

Opening the new ER to the public means expanding healthcare services to the growing Johnson County community, Dunkle said.

“We’ve gone from 15 beds to 26 beds, we have more advanced trauma rooms with lifts to better move patients, we have a new helicopter pad.” he said.

The new emergency department also includes for decontamination areas and a space for EMS workers and other first responders to rest and socialize between calls.

In addition to expanding services, JMH also recently partnered with Boone County Emergency Medical, an Indiana-based physicians group known for reducing wait times in emergency rooms.

“No one likes to go to the emergency room,” Dunkle said. “What’s the biggest complaint whenever you touch the medical system? It’s usually the length of wait.”

“I’d love to have a door-to-doc time of three minutes.” he said.

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