Officials sign beam for Tobey Hospital’s new emergency department

May 24, 2021

For Tobey Hospital staff, the long-awaited expansion of the hospital’s emergency department promises two crucial things: more space and increased privacy.

“In the old emergency department, standing in one position, I could see everything happening,” Dr. Sarah Bernier said at a beam signing ceremony on May 24. “There are some benefits to being able to see everything that’s happening, but it’s really not ideal. In this new ED, we will continue to provide exceptional care — but give the patients and their visitors the privacy they deserve.”

She said that the biggest challenge with the old department was space: Sometimes patients in the old emergency department would spend their entire visit in a bed in the hallway without the comfort of privacy.

Bernier, an emergency department leader, said that the additional space for staff to work in the new department will allow for “more efficient and streamlined care” — while making it possible for the department to treat more patients.

Everyone who works in the department is “ecstatic that this project is surging forward,” Bernier told a small crowd of donors, Southcoast Health administrators, Tobey Hospital staff, town leaders and other community members.

The group had gathered to sign the last structural steel beam for the expanded emergency department, which could open as soon as January 2022.

Louis Cabral, chair of the Southcoast Board of Trustees, thanked everyone in attendance for their support and their contributions to the emergency department expansion.

“Those who sign their names today on this beam are not simply making their mark on a piece of steel in celebration,” Cabral said. “Let’s be clear: You are empowering dedicated medical professionals [...] to change lives, save lives. You are memorializing your commitment to this wonderful region we call home — and setting an example for others to follow.”

The renovations will increase the emergency department to 25,000 square feet, dramatically increasing the capacity of a department that has been seeing approximately double the patient volume it was designed to accommodate.

The new emergency room will have 27 treatment rooms, including six that will be specially designed for those experiencing mental health or substance abuse disorders.

The new facility will be able to accommodate 40,000 patients annually. As of September 2020, Tobey Hospital was seeing more than 30,000 patients each year in its emergency department that was built in 1987 to accommodate only 15,000 patients annually.

Southcoast Health President and CEO Keith Hovan said the expansion was being built so that capacity could eventually be increased further. 

“We designed the emergency department so we could actually go up on top of it to put more patient rooms as the need in the community arises,” he said.  

The expansion is a $25 million project, and fundraising is still underway.

“Covid-19, of course, brought about delays, constraints and unforeseen challenges — but everyone involved has stayed the course,” Cabral said. “We are embarking on raising the final $5 million needed to bring this impressive facility across the finish line in time for the 2022 opening.”

Michele Wakeman, site administrator and associate chief nursing officer at Tobey Hospital, has worked at Tobey Hospital for 16 years. She said she loved hearing stories about some of the earliest days of Tobey Hospital — including a time when there was only one physician and one nurse staffing the emergency department.  

“Many patients we serve were born right here in this hospital,” Wakeman said. 

She said hospital employees are just as eager as community members to see the finished expansion.

“Having outgrown the previous space and working tirelessly in a temporary space over the past six months, the staff are more than excited to see the finished product,” Wakeman said.

She also noted that before the beam is raised into place, Tobey Hospital staff members would be given the opportunity to sign the beam as well.

Southcoast Health officials also praised Suffolk Construction for their hard work.  

“They’ve been working in rain, sleet, in muddy conditions, through covid,” said Hovan. “They’ve been on the job. They've been doing a really terrific, terrific job for us here.”