Health & Medicine

Record $5.5 million donation will help fund major French Hospital expansion

French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo has announced a $13 million expansion of its emergency department. This is a rendering of the exterior.
French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo has announced a $13 million expansion of its emergency department. This is a rendering of the exterior.

French Hospital Medical Center announced Tuesday that it will begin construction next year on a $13 million emergency department that will modernize and triple the size of the existing unit built 45 years ago.

Officials at the San Luis Obispo hospital say the new unit should cut down on wait times and speed services to both walk-in and ambulance patients after the first phase is completed in 2019.

The expansion will be paid for by hospital owner Dignity Health, plus a $5.5 million donation from former Apple executive Peter Oppenheimer and his wife, Mary Beth. The Oppenheimer gift is the largest ever received by French Hospital and is among the largest single-donor donations in the Dignity Health system, hospital CEO Alan Iftiniuk said.

The construction will expand the size of the emergency department from 4,000 square feet to 12,600 square feet, increase the number of beds from seven to 18 and bring all imaging services — X-ray, ultrasound machine and a 64-slice CT scanner — into the unit instead of sharing the equipment with the rest of the hospital.

The 18 beds will be in individual rooms, meaning more privacy for patients than the unit’s existing two private rooms and five-bed ward.

The construction will expand the size of the emergency department from 4,000 square feet to 12,600 square feet and increase the number of beds from seven to 13.

Iftiniuk called the donation by Oppenheimer, a member of the French Hospital board of directors, “transformational,” and said the expansion is the largest effort in a 12-year modernization program.

“We started a journey back in 2004, not only to transform the campus of French Hospital, but to transform the care,” Iftiniuk said during a news conference outside the hospital. “This incredibly generous gift will transform the way we deliver emergency services to our community.”

Construction on the Oppenheimer Family Center for Emergency Medicine will take place in two phases, which will allow for continual use of the emergency department. Construction of the first phase is expected to start in spring 2018 and take a year to complete. The 8,600-foot expansion will be built in that phase and will include a large lobby, individual rooms designated for critical care, infectious disease isolation, pediatrics, orthopedic emergencies and fast-track beds near the front for patients with less urgent conditions.

Once that phase is complete, phase two will take about seven months and will convert the existing 4,000-square-foot unit into the imaging center and support services offices.

Dr. Juan Reynoso, regional director of the California Emergency Physicians medical group that provides services to French Hospital, said walk-in patients should expect to be able to speak immediately with a member of the medical staff — a nurse, physician assistant or nurse practitioner — who will assess their condition and move them into the appropriate room.

Having imaging equipment devoted specifically to the emergency department should also speed up diagnosis and treatment, he said.

“This is our commitment, to expand our capacity to treat the members of our community so they can be seen as soon as they hit the door,” Reynoso said.

The expansion’s glass, straw-colored stucco and stone exterior is designed as a “contemporary complement” to the hospital’s more traditional “pueblo” architecture, said Brian Starr, principal architect at Studio Design Group Architects in San Luis Obispo. Starr also designed the hospital’s three-story Copeland Health Education Pavilion that opened in 2015.

Mr. Darcy is a 9-year-old English toy spaniel with French Hospital Medical Center's Healing Paws program, which brings dogs to the hospital to sit with patients. Here he sits with patient Donnie Jensen of San Luis Obispo, who is recovering from hi

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