Health & Medicine

French Hospital expects new, state-of-the-art emergency wing to ‘save lives’

When Peter Oppenheimer fell from his horse while riding at Cal Poly, breaking a bone in his shoulder, he was treated at nearby French Hospital.

“I knew it had been here for decades, but I didn’t realize how old it was and how undersized it was and how much it needed a renovation and modernization,” said Oppenheimer, the former chief financial officer of Apple.

Oppenheimer said he received excellent care at the aging emergency room, constructed in the 1970s, but the condition of the space opened his eyes to want to help “people in their greatest time of need.”

In response, he and his wife Mary Beth made a $5.5 million donation toward a new emergency department, which is now under construction as part of a $17 million facility that will be called the Oppenheimer Family Center for Emergency Medicine at 1911 Johnson Ave.

The hospital offered a sneak peak Thursday into the new wing, which is scheduled to open later this year or in early 2020 after construction and state licensing is completed.

The new facility includes 18 new private patient rooms, and separated areas serving treatment needs including trauma, pediatrics, geriatrics, infectious disease and other specialized services.

The hospital, operated by parent company Dignity Health, is nearly quadrupling its current emergency department space.

“I truly believe this new addition at French will save many lives,” Oppenheimer said.

French Hosp ER 1
The new French Hospital Oppenheimer Family Emergency Medical Center, set to open later this year, will quadruple the current emergency room. This room will be the main resuscitation room. Laura Dickinson

The new 8,900-square-foot addition accompanies a remodel of the 2,400-square-foot existing emergency department. The new and old edifices will be merged after a wall is removed that currently separates them.

The expansion is separate from an additional $100 million upgrade of its complex, including an 85,000-square-foot addition.

Key features include a room for kids with calming, playful visuals to entertain them and distract them from their health problems, according to hospital officials.

Another unique addition is for infectious disease isolation, where hazardous materials and contaminated water can be kept out of the sewer system and patients can be isolated.

The new French Hospital Oppenheimer Family Emergency Medical Center, set to open later this year, will quadruple the current emergency room. Rendering provided by Dignity Health. Laura Dickinson

Yet another component involves a secure treatment space for mentally ill patients in custody if they’re a danger to themselves or others.

The hospital expects to see a 10 percent growth in emergency room visits with the addition to accommodate patients and serve needs of a variety of capacities.

The new space will likely mean hires of three or four new employees, with mostly existing staff moving into the new spaces, French administrators said.

“Our desire is to go above and beyond the expectations for care,” said Alan Iftiniuk, the hospital’s CEO. “This isn’t about just adding fancy new buildings, but to really understand how to maximize the needs for patients and members of our staff across the board.”

Iftiniuk said “a hospital can be a scary place” and part of the goal was to minimize the tension on all involved.

The 18 private rooms will help separate patients so they don’t have to share close quarters with those in extreme pain or having intimate medical conversations.

French Hosp ER008
The new French Hospital Oppenheimer Family Emergency Medical Center, set to open later this year, will quadruple the current emergency room. Laura Dickinson

Emergency room physician Juan Reynoso said the new facility also will place medical equipment in close vicinity to patients.

“It’s built to have equipment in the most efficient, convenient locations for treatment and care,” Reynoso said.

Additional features include bulletproof glass and panic buttons for staff in case of threats of violence; patterns in flooring that double as decoration and wayfinding; and a dedicated imaging suite (in the remodeled current emergency space) with CT scan, X-ray and ultrasound rooms.

The Oppenheimers’ donation is the largest gift ever received by the hospital, Iftiniuk said. The additional cost of the hospital’s emergency room upgrade will come from hospital funding, Iftiniuk said.

The Oppenheimers, who also have made large gifts to Cal Poly, are six-year SLO residents. Peter Oppenheimer, who retired from Apple in 2014, is on French Hospital’s board of directors, currently serving as vice chairman.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.