Countering a recent trend in which hospitals throughout Los Angeles County have been closing their trauma centers, St. Mary Medical Center of Long Beach is planning to expand its trauma and emergency center to handle an increasing load of patients.
"We are already operating at over capacity and have been for some years," said hospital spokeswoman Carolyn Cohen. Built to handle about 20,000 patients a year, she said, the center has been servicing an average of 33,000. She attributes the increase to overflow from the centers that have closed, rising incidents of violence in the community and increasing numbers of indigent patients without health insurance who do not seek medical care until health problems become emergencies.
On Wednesday, hospital officials broke ground on a $3.6-million, 16-month construction project that will expand the institution's physical size by 40%--from 7,920 square feet to 12,900 square feet. As a result, Cohen said, the number of beds in the center will increase from 19 to 29, providing an annual patient capacity of about 50,000.
"This is a necessary service and it's part of our mission as a hospital," Cohen said in explaining the expansion. "We are committed to treating everyone who needs treatment and our emergency room is an increasingly important part of the care we provide."