After 38 years in its current facility, a new and improved emergency room (ER) has come to the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital that is expected to set a new standard for emergency care on the Westside, hospital officials say.

The new 16,000-square-foot Nethercutt Emergency Center opens Wednesday, July 25th, and is the first step of a larger project to rebuild the entire hospital. It is two and a half times the size of the old facility, which was built in 1969.

Some damage was sustained to the hospital during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, which prompted the hospital to bring its medical campus up to the latest seismic safety standards and better serve the community’s changing demographics and healthcare needs, instead of just “retrofitting,” said Ted Braun, director of marketing and public relations for the hospital.

All hospital construction should be complete in 2010 and the final site improvements are expected to be finished in 2011.

“I’ve been waiting 27 years for this,” says Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the emergency room, who has worked at the hospital just over 27 years. “I’m in heaven. When I’m in here, I can’t stop smiling.

“We were the first emergency room in Santa Monica. Now we’re bringing our staff to this state-of-the-art emergency department to match their expertise. Our staff is so excited and proud.”

The new emergency room, designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern, will provide “more efficient and compassionate care in a more comfortable environment to 30,000 patients a year” who seek emergency care at the current facility, hospital officials say.

The ER is part of the entirely new Southwest Wing of the hospital, on 15th Street just north of Arizona Avenue.

The center will offer special pediatric beds, fast-track service for patients with minor injuries and illnesses and an on-site 64-slice CT scanner that takes better images using less radiation to accurately diagnose ailments such as strokes, heart attacks and breathing disorders.

The scanner, which Ghurabi calls “the apple of my eye,” is basically a sophisticated imaging apparatus — like a very advanced three-dimensional x-ray, he says.

“We are the only ER on the Westside that has a CT scanner and one of only a few in the country,” Ghurabi says, pointing out what an advanced piece of technology it is.

There’s also a new patient tracking system to allow staff to continuously follow patients throughout the department.

And the privacy is much more advanced than in the current facility, where Ghurabi says it can be an issue.

Sometimes, when someone is in severe pain and screaming, “everyone around town can hear,” he says.

But now, that should no longer be an issue. Exam rooms offer more privacy and there are a number of private rooms, which will enable patients to be examined privately.

Additionally, the ER staff will now be able to send blood directly to a new 9,000-square-foot state-of-the-art laboratory through a pneumatic tube system, instead of by hand, which eliminates human error that can occur while transporting blood, said Ghurabi.

“It’s a huge advancement,” he said.

Ghurabi and the rest of the ER staff were closely involved with the rebuilding of the center to ensure design updates. Medical equipment and integrated communication technology were all combined to better meet the needs of patients who seek emergency services.

Staff members say they can’t wait to move to the new facility, and July 25th can’t come soon enough for them.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Elizabeth George, the nursing unit director of the ER.

George remembers that when she came on board in 1998, she was told that the ER was going to be rebuilt.

“We just didn’t know when,” George said. “So, to actually be moving, it’s a wonderful feeling. It’s really exciting.”

“We’ve always looked forward to moving to a new facility,” said Ghurabi, who noted he’d been promised a new ER facility since the early ’80s. “It was worthwhile waiting.”

The old ER will be demolished sometime this summer and construction will begin on the Central Wing, which will connect all of the buildings of the new hospital together, Braun said.

During construction, the current hospital entrance, 1250 16th Street, will be closed and will shift to 1225 15th St.