Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center marks grand opening of expanded emergency department, prioritizing behavioral, geriatric health patients

Leadership from Dartmouth Health and DHMC cut the ceremonial ribbon for the newly expanded emergency department.
From left: Scott W. Rodi, MD, MPH, FACEP; Christine T. Finn, MD; William C. Torrey, MD; Moriah J. Tidwell, MSN, RN; Susan A. Reeves, EdD, RN; and Joanne M. Conroy, MD.

Our focus has always been on rapid behavioral health assessment, stabilization and transfer to treatment. Now we can jumpstart treatment when a patient has to wait in the ED.

Christine T. Finn, MD

Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), a member of Dartmouth Health and New Hampshire’s only academic medical center, celebrated the grand opening of an expansion to its emergency department (ED) on Thursday, September 8, a key part of an ongoing commitment to expand both behavioral and geriatric health access. The $7 million project, which was built over the course of 16 months, adds nine new rooms to the ED, with a focus on behavioral health and geriatric needs of the Upper Valley region.

The need for an expanded ED was identified several years ago, with providers, nurses, and a wide range of support staff contributing to the planning. Construction began in May of 2021 and was recently completed. The ED now has a total of 11 rooms for behavioral healthcare. Other additions to the ED include a treatment room with negative pressure capability for high threat infection, group therapy/activity room, mass decontamination room and single decontamination room.

“Rooms designed for patients in mental health crisis have enhanced safety features that improve visibility and reduce risk of self-harm,” says Christine T. Finn, MD, a psychiatrist and director of Emergency Psychiatry Services at DHMC. “Six of the new rooms will have a window, which is critical for patients who stay longer than a few hours.”

Access to behavioral health beds is a crisis for hospitals across New Hampshire and the United States. These patients often get “stuck” in EDs for days or weeks on end while waiting for treatment options. Improvements to the ED ensure they are receiving the right care in an appropriate setting for their needs.

“Our focus has always been on rapid behavioral health assessment, stabilization and transfer to treatment,” Finn said. “Now we can jumpstart treatment when a patient has to wait in the ED.”

Improving care for an aging population is another goal supported by the ED expansion. The new behavioral health space was also designed to help older ED patients in a number of ways.

“During COVID-19 and the surge in behavioral health patients, we lost space that was dedicated to the geriatric population,” Scott W. Rodi, MD, MPH, FACEP, inaugural chair of Emergency Medicine at DHMC. “When the new behavioral beds come on line, will be able to re-open that geriatric unit.”

The addition of rooms with windows and natural light is also beneficial to elderly behavioral health patients, as they will help minimize episodes of increased confusion (“sundowning”) to which elderly patients are especially susceptible.

“The new unit offers numerous beneficial features including enhanced safety elements, natural light, space for a wider array of therapeutic interventions, greater privacy for communication with attorneys and the state court system, and a place for social activities for children and adolescents among others,” Finn said. “Through the opening of our new ED space and associated allocation of clinical resources, Dartmouth Health has turned towards these challenges and is working to improve the care of patients with acute mental health needs.”

The newly-constructed portion of the ED will open to patients on Thursday, September 15, 2022.

About Dartmouth Health

Dartmouth Health, New Hampshire's only academic health system and the state's largest private employer, serves patients across northern New England. Dartmouth Health provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, as well as across its wide network of hospitals, clinics and care facilities. DHMC is consistently named the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in numerous clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth Health includes its Dartmouth Cancer Center, one of only 51 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation, and the only such center in northern New England; Dartmouth Health Children’s, including the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, the state’s only children’s hospital and clinic locations around the region; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene and New London, NH, and Windsor, VT, and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and more than 24 clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. Through its historical partnership with Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth Health trains nearly 400 medical residents and fellows annually, and performs cutting-edge research and clinical trials recognized across the globe with Geisel and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT. Dartmouth Health and its more than 13,000 employees are deeply committed to serving the healthcare needs of everyone in our communities, and to providing each of our patients with exceptional, personal care.