FORT KENT, Maine — Construction is winding down on a $2 million renovation project at the Northern Maine Medical Center’s emergency room, where medical staff are expected to completely move in by the end of next month.

“Our emergency room has not had any facelifts since it was built in the 1970s,” Alain Bois, NMMC director of nursing services, said Monday. “The old ER did not have a lot of efficiencies and was not meeting some of our patients’ needs.”

Once complete, the roughly 5,000-square-foot emergency room on the eastern end of the Fort Kent hospital will be a blend of old and new, Bois said.

Funding for the project came from a $1 million loan combined with $700,000 from NMMC’s operating cash reserve and $300,000 from Maine’s rural development fund, according to Joanne Fortin, hospital director of service excellence and communication.

Last fall, a 1,500-square-foot addition to the building was completed adjacent to the existing emergency room in the project’s first phase. Bois said this area will house a new ambulance entrance, trauma room, decontamination room and exam rooms.

In phase 2, completed earlier this year, the old emergency room was vacated to make way for renovations and construction of a new dedicated OB-GYN and sexual assault exam room, a medications room and additional exam rooms, Bois said.

Now in phase 3, workers are renovating what used to be the ambulance entry area into a new reception and waiting area and more exam rooms.

All construction and renovation has been with patient privacy, care and comfort in mind, Bois said.

“Patients had expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of confidentiality and privacy in the old emergency room that had semi-private rooms,” he said. “Now all the rooms are private.”

The hospital has added medical testing and monitoring equipment and designated one of the new exam rooms for individuals with behavioral issues.

“We are the only licensed psychiatric facility north of Bangor,” Bois said. “Frequently we’d have people get in their cars and show up here displaying suicidal or other self-harming tendencies.”

Before the renovations, those patients could find themselves in an exam room full of items they could use to harm themselves and hospital staff would need to secure the room.

“Now we have a separate room that is set up for those patients and ready if it is needed,” Bois said.

“I’ve been wanting this new construction for many years, and I can’t believe it’s happening,” Jeannine Hobbins, NMMC emergency room nurse, said. “So far there have been nothing but positive comments about it.”

Plans for the new emergency room have been in the works for about five years, Bois said, and staff input was accepted throughout the planning process.

The emergency room never closed down during the construction, but Bois said the reception area and waiting room have moved around and a temporary entrance is set up in the middle of the building.

Bois said NMMC sees between 500 and 600 patients every month in its emergency room and over the last two months, patient surveys have indicated those being treated there are happy with the changes.

“People are seeing a big difference here,” he said. “The satisfaction ratings are through the roof.”

Fortin said the cost of the construction and repaying the loans will have no impact on the cost of services at NMMC.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.