CoxHealth Expansion Highlights Growing Need for Em

Published 09/25 2013 05:25PM

Updated 09/25 2013 06:15PM

BRANSON, Mo. -- The symbolic piles of sand overturned by golden shovels at the Cox Branson groundbreaking are nothing compared to the construction site to come.

In the next few months, crews will demolish the medical plaza adjoining the hospital to make room for a new three-story, 42 thousand sq. ft. building that will house an emergency room and room for future expansion. The hospital will also renovate an 18 thousand sq. ft. structure that will provide an expanded coronary care unit and upgraded facilities.

Steve Edwards, the CEO of Cox Health, made a special trip to Branson for the groundbreaking. He said the hospital's current emergency rooms aren't enough to keep up with a growing demand in the tourist-heavy area.

"It's a material addition, with a brand new emergency department and a brand new [intensive care unit] area," he said. "And then some room to grow as well. This emergency department is at times as big as any big city emergency department, especially in the summer time."

Edwards explained that as traffic to Branson has increased, so have emergency room visits. In addition, health care in Taney Co. lacks doctors, nurses and access to preventative care.

As a result, tourists and individuals with poor health come straight to the emergency room for care. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, more than 24 thousand patients visit the ER every year, a number as high as many major cities. Dr. Richard Blubaugh, an ER physician, said the current facilities are overcrowded.

"We have many challenges," he said. " Because we have a high utilization of emergency room visits here in the community."

Preventative care is another opportunity for growth in the area. Cox has sent Dr. Steve Berkstresser to work full-time at Faith Community Health Clinic, a provider for low-income families. The hospital is also recruiting doctors.

"The degree of illness in the indigent is higher than it is in the general population," Berkstresser explained. "We've been hurting down here for primary care providers for a long time. It's just difficult, sometimes, to attract people."

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