Northwest Hospital is renovating and expanding its emergency department, adding four triage rooms and 2,500 square feet in an effort to reduce wait times and improve the experience for patients and staff.

The state-funded, $6 million redesign of the Randallstown hospital’s emergency department will update its entrance, waiting rooms and triage areas as part of a broader effort to see more patients faster.

Emergency departments in Maryland had the longest median wait time in the U.S., according to 2021 data in a Maryland Hospital Association report published this year. That’s the time between when patients enter the emergency department and when they depart. Earlier this year, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law establishing a commission to improve efficiency in emergency departments.

Northwest Hospital’s average median wait time was about 4.5 hours, the 11th longest in the state, in March 2024, the latest data available in a report from Maryland’s Health Services Cost Review Commission. (The average median wait time fluctuates from month to month.)

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A contributor to long wait times is the lack of space in the emergency room, said Dr. Revathi Jyothindran, the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine.

“We’re limited by the geography that we have in our ER,” she said.

Northwest Hospital’s current triage area. (Amisha Kumar)

Patients who are in the waiting room are first triaged or sorted into groups based on urgency or level of medical attention required. The nurses frequently have to move the patients out of triage rooms and back into the waiting room due to lack of space, which is “quite chaotic and disorganized for the patient,” said Jyothindran. With more space, she said, they can stop shuffling patients back and forth.

The updates will allow for four different areas to group patients and create three pathways for patient care: a rapid evaluation unit for noncritical patients, a triage channel for patients with more urgent medical needs, and a separate area for behavioral health patients that limits their exposure to an environment that could be triggering.

Rendering of Northwest Hospital’s renovated emergency room entrance. (Northwest Hospital)

The physical expansion is in addition to ongoing workflow changes, said Craig Carmichael, president of Northwest Hospital and senior vice president of LifeBridge Health, the hospital’s parent company.

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The renovation will allow patients arriving by ambulance, who make up nearly a third of patients at Northwest, to directly go to a triage room, said Carmichael. It’ll also add enough space for the entire triage team to be in one location, rather than being separated into an area for those arriving by ambulance and another for those walking in through the entrance, he said.

In the next two weeks, the hospital’s current emergency entrance will be temporarily relocated to another hospital entrance until the renovations are completed next year.