A crowd of doctors and medical students buzzed with excitement as they lined the second-floor rotunda of the new GW Hospital Friday night, awaiting the transfer of the first patient.
A woman in labor was already resting upstairs.
A media pool waited in front of the reception desk, making the spacious lobby seem cramped. Three computer stations were ready to check patients in to the new facility.
Two minutes turned to twenty, then forty, before 59-year-old Floyd Godfrey wheeled across the street under an air-conditioned tent, accompanied by two medical students, at 9:50 p.m.
For hospital officials, the wait probably seemed like an eternity compared to the two short years it took to build the facility. Few current GW students remember the 265-spot parking lot that stood on the hospital site in 1998, but some neighborhood residents wish it was back.
Godfrey was greeted by cheers and applause from more than 50 people as he checked in and moved into a private room on the fourth floor to continue recovering from an acute gout attack.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Godfrey said in his new room, amid camera flashes that surrounded him as technicians took his blood pressure. “You don’t often get a chance to make history.”
The last time the GW Hospital made history was in 1948, when it built its first state-of-the-art facility for its time. GW has since outgrown the hospital at 23rd and I streets in technology and patient volume.
Though it had 130 more beds than the new building, the old hospital averaged about 300 patients most days – the limit for its staff and technology, said hospital CEO Dan McLean.
“This hospital has 371 beds and will run 371 beds, so the reality is the capacity has gone up,” he said.
The new $96 million building, which began emergency services Friday night and opened to the public Saturday, features technology that eliminates problems from unclear x-rays to reading doctor’s prescription handwriting.
GW Hospital, which has been touted as “the president’s hospital,” has long faced the unique challenges of caring for the District, including treating former President Ronald Reagan after an assassination attempt in 1981. Vice President Dick Cheney has made multiple visits to the GW Hospital for heart problems.
The new facility features about six rooms wired for special communications and security. McLean said the Secret Service has checked the rooms out and is familiar with them. The building also includes many private rooms and VIP suites, some of which overlook Washington Circle.
“Eighty percent or more will be in private rooms instead of two-patient rooms,” McLean said. He also mentioned the rooms come with cable TV and room service.
Next to patient amenities, the new hospital boasts technology that “moves nurses back out to patients,” McLean said. He explained that wireless communication equipment and the “pod” setup instead of wards help nurses interact with patients more.
A wireless network allows clinicians to access patient data on a hand held device, like a PDA. Nurses will use laptops outside each cluster of four rooms, known as a pod, to view lab results, radiology results or patient orders for just those rooms, rather than taking charge of a whole ward.
Computers will also be used bedside to assess and record a patient’s condition. The patient’s record can also be entered directly into the main patient record system to avoid errors in transferring the information.
The new building boasts an emergency department three times the size of the old one, said Kathy Cambareri, hospital director of quality and education.
Cambareri led the hospital employees on a scavenger hunt prior to its opening to accustom them to the design of the 400,000 square-foot building.
A walk through the building’s spacious hallways reveals a well-thought out design that employees say was easy to learn because each floor has a similar layout.
The first floor houses an emergency room three times the size of the old one, with four critical care bays and four cardiac care bays with diagnostic imaging capabilities to better aid the hospital’s