URBANA — Carle Foundation Hospital's 30-year-old emergency department has grown busier in recent years, and now hospital officials want to make it larger to meet the demand.
The hospital has applied to state regulators for permission to expand and remodel the emergency department in 2014, at a total cost of $18.5 million.
Use of Carle's emergency room, which is the area's Level 1 trauma center, has "skyrocketed," hospital officials said.
Level I trauma centers serve the most acutely ill and injured patients in their regions.
Carle is proposing to add 14,000 square feet to the approximately 16,700-square-foot emergency department, along with 17 acute-care beds.
Some other features of the project would also include adding another trauma room and adding or replacing imaging equipment in a dedicated radiology suite to make it handy to emergency-department patients.
Those new beds are badly needed, said Dr. Michael Swindle, chairman of Carle's emergency department.
"We actually have hallway beds now, and the hallway beds are filled frequently," he said. "We're bursting at the seams."
Five hallway beds are needed every day, and up to 10 hallway beds are needed at times, according to the hospital's application on file with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.
The application is available on the planning board's website at http://bit.ly/Pdq3PJ.
Carle says it served more than 65,000 people in its emergency department last year and use of the emergency room has grown 25 percent between 2004 and 2011.
Where are all those additional patients coming from? Nationally, the trend has been more people using emergency rooms and fewer emergency rooms to serve them, Swindle said.
People know emergency rooms are the places they can be seen right away, and they want to be seen today, not tomorrow, he said.
Another big factor: The population is aging and more people have chronic illnesses needing attention, he said.
"People are simply living longer with more chronic diseases, and we're better at saving them," he said.
Carle is on track to get about 70,000 patients in its emergency department this year, Swindle said, and if the current trend continues, its emergency department will get 80,000 patients in 2016.
Swindle said he doesn't see the surge stopping.
"Older people get sick and they need to be seen quickly, and they have to come somewhere," he said.
The state planning board must approve the project before Carle can proceed; officials hope to get the go-ahead in October.