Ken Langone, chairman of the Board of Trustees at the NYU Langone Medical Center, the New York City hospital center named after him, was being treated for pneumonia on the 11th floor of the facility when Superstorm Sandy flooded the basement and emergency room in October, 2012. Langone was evacuated safely and successfully down the darkened stairs along with babies on respirators and over 300 other patients.
A year and a half later, at a ceremony commemorating the newly completed Ronald O. Perelman Center for Emergency Services, which at 22,000 square feet and 40 comfortable treatment spaces is more than triple the size of the former emergency department, Langone spoke to me emotionally about the significance of the medical center named after him rising from the ashes and regaining its full strength with this state-of-the-art facility.
“It’s not the building,” he said. “It’s not the technology. It’s the people and the care they provide here. I pinch myself every day. I can’t believe how proud our doctors and nurses make me feel.”
Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at NYU Langone, noted that the physical surroundings play a role in healing, too. “The physical environment of an emergency department not only affects a patient’s overall experience, but more importantly, his or her ability to recover,” he said at the ceremony.
While waiting for the emergency center to be completed (Perelman donated $50 million to create it), NYU Langone Medical Center functioned with a temporary urgent care center in place of an ER.
Members of the faculty, myself included, enjoyed the unexpected quality and flexibility of this facility, as patients were triaged in an ER-like area off the lobby and then sent upstairs to a holding ward on the 16th floor, where further care was administered.
The Urgent Care Center took all comers, with only 911 calls lacking, and many doctors noted that the waiting time was much shorter than it was in the old ER.
Now the 911 calls are back, as NYU Langone tries to turn damage and destruction into an opportunity for expansion and improvement.
One question that remains is how long the average wait time will be at the new ER.
Goldfrank struggled to respond to this question during the ceremony – on the first day, he said, there was no wait at all. But whatever the average wait to be seen will be, it is sure to be shorter than it was at the old compressed ER and shorter than at other urban ERs that are contracting rather than expanding.
NYU’s Emergency Room expansion is coming at a time when ER visits and the demand for ER services are increasing – due to the overburdened health care delivery system. At the same time, ERs across the country are shrinking and closing.
This perfect storm was documented in a 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed that U.S. cities lost almost 30 percent of their ERs over the past 20 years at a time when patient visits to ERs increased by 35 percent.
No matter how long the wait, or how overcrowded the facility, as Langone says, what matters the most is the quality of care, the knowledge and compassion of the physician you see when you reach the front of the line. It isn’t the spaciousness or the bedside registration that makes the biggest difference, it’s the continued commitment of the practitioners.
But Goldfrank is right, too: Innovation and comfort promote an environment of healing where diagnosis and treatment are coordinated most effectively.
At a time when quality of care in ERs all across the country is in jeopardy, NYU is adding new technologies, while at the same time turning back the clock to a time of even greater commitment to patients.
Marc Siegel MD is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is a medical analyst and reporter for Fox News since 2008. His upcoming book concerns a mysterious viral outbreak.