SANTA ROSA -- Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, the only level II trauma center in the region,  said it will soon begin site preparation work on a $15 million renovation to its emergency department, a project that was delayed with the financial collapse of 2008.

Hospital officials said they anticipate getting final approval and permits from the Office of Statewide Health and Planning Department in early May. Upon getting the necessary permits, preliminary work will begin immediately at the hospital, and actual construction will be visible by around mid July. Completion of  the project is expected by early 2014.

The renovation will add nearly 50 percent more square footage to Sonoma County's busiest ER, which will have 26 private patient rooms, plus a new triage room, all of which will enable the trauma center to treat more critically ill or injured patients while more quickly triaging those with less acute conditions, according to the hospital, which is owned by St. Joseph Health System.

"It's well-needed work," said Dr. Ed West, an emergency department physician who has served as the main clinical consultant on the project. "We have been in the current facility footprint since 1985, we added five beds maybe five or six years ago, and our volume has increased every year – we have literally outgrown our space."

The health system announced last July that it would resume plans to renovate the emergency department at the 278-bed hospital. Before the economic downturn in 2008, the hospital was planning a much larger, two-story $68 million renovation that would have included a new intensive care unit and an expanded emergency room.

That initial project had also planned for the possible closure of Sutter Medical Center, which holds a county Health Care Access agreement that Memorial possibly would have taken over. Sutter ultimately stayed, and coupled with the collapse of financial markets, St. Joseph Health System dropped the new ICU and retooled its plans to the current $15 million project, which it describes as a "more narrowly focused upgrade designed to meet community needs through 2030."

The revamped emergency department will be adjacent to the hospital's Heart and Vascular Institute, which opened in November 2008. The hospital said it has secured a number of private pledges that will help fund the project.

Patient privacy, wait times and level of comfort are all expected to improve, according to the hospital.

"We're committed to providing patients more privacy, a state-of-the-art environment and decreased wait times," said Kristy Gaub, RN, director of emergency, trauma and urgent care services for St. Joseph Health System--Sonoma County.

Physicians themselves will be better able to treat patients in a larger, more modern setting, said Dr. West, who has been at the hospital since 1984.

"One of the things for the doctors in particular, the emergency department by nature is very chaotic, and having some room and some privacy to contemplate what’s going on will be a huge benefit," he said.

On average, the emergency department treats about 100 patients per day, or roughly 36,500 per year, according to the hospital. As one of only 23 level II trauma centers in the state, Memorial treats patients from all over Northern California who are flown or transferred to Santa Rosa for emergency care.

"The patients we see are a lot of sick patients, and we're trying to get them out of there rapidly," said Dr. West. "We don’t have another bed to put them in.  One of the real advantages will be to the less sick patients ... because well be able to get them in and out much faster."

Renovation plans call for adding 4,228 square feet to the existing 9,280 square foot emergency department. The expansion will extend toward Montgomery Drive, which will require a number of parking spaces to be replaced. The number of patient rooms will increase from 19 to 26, with a 27th bed reserved for triaging patients. Each new room in the ED will also be larger, from about 80 square feet to 120 square feet, according to LeRoy King, vice president of construction for Northern California for the health system.

Additionally, all patient bays will be upgraded to private, four-walled rooms, as opposed to 12 of the 18 current rooms that have curtains and less privacy. Waiting areas will be larger, and the new reception area will seat some 60 people. Two nursing stations, two physician charting rooms and additional private space for consultations with patient families are also part of the plans. The new department will feature better wireless IT and digital equipment, as well.

"It will be a nice, open area," Mr. King said. "It's not as confined or closed."

The upgrade will bring the hospital's facilities more in line with the capabilities of its physicians and other clinical staff who are key to earning the hospital its level II trauma designation from the American College of Surgeons, which in April reaffirmed that designation in a survey conducted every three years, officials said.

Construction will be carried out in three phases, said Mr. King, which will enable the hospital to seamlessly operate the current emergency department while the expansion occurs.

"This expansion will allow us to better treat and comfort patients and their families, and to maintain our long-standing commitment to excellence in trauma services, cardiovascular care, and other life-saving treatments," Kevin Klockenga, president and CEO of St. Joseph Health System in Sonoma County, said in a statement.

Santa Rosa-based Wright Contracting is the general contractor on the project, and Los Angeles-based RBB Architects designed the project. BKF Engineers from Santa Rosa is the civil engineer for the the project.