One of Los Angeles' largest hospitals is about to get larger, and in the process relieve some bottlenecks in its care of the region's sickest patients.

Pending final regulatory inspections, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is set to open its 250,000-square-foot Saperstein Critical Care Tower this month. The $110 million facility consolidates 120 intensive care units that were scattered throughout the main hospital, which now has 877 licensed beds. The project also includes 30 so-called universal rooms equipped for more limited monitoring of vital signs than an ICU bed that can be used for a variety of purposes.

"What we're expecting is that, aside from the additional space, there are going to be some greater efficiencies just from the layout and the flexibility we'll have with some of the units," said Dr. Paul Silka, medical chief of staff, noting that a committee of doctors, nurses and administrators began planning the facility six years ago.

Cedars is among several Los Angeles area hospitals that are upgrading facilities in conjunction with mandated earthquake retrofit projects. Annual hospital admissions countywide are up 20 percent in the past 10 years and seven hospitals have closed since 2003, according to a new report funded by The California Endowment.

West L.A. hospitals have been hard pressed to keep pace with demand, particularly institutions like Cedars that draw patients from a wider area. Population growth, on top of an aging demographic more likely to become seriously ill, have only exacerbated the situation, said Silka, noting that Cedars often has long waiting lists to schedule elective surgery. Recently reopened Century City Doctors Hospital so far has seen its greatest success as a surgical hospital, with its operating rooms generally booked by surgeons who can't get into Cedars.

The new rooms are oversized, which enables equipment to be brought into the room instead of having to move a patient around the hospital. Beds are motorized so when frail patients are moved, they don't have to be lifted back and forth to gurneys and examination tables. The universal units allow for cardiac monitoring, which means that an emergency room patient, or a seriously ill patient directly admitted by their doctor, can be put there temporarily until a permanent room becomes available. In addition, space freed up in the main hospital will be used to add six operating suites to relieve backups in that department.

"Most of the acute care facilities in this city and county are absolutely gridlocked because there aren't enough beds, so it makes it very difficult for a physician to admit an elective case that doesn't go through the emergency department," said Silka, noting that around 500 of the 1,500 physicians with hospital privileges at Cedars use the hospital regularly. "We hope this is really going to make a difference for our doctors and patients."

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