When emergency room nurse Mary Romanaggi started at Providence Seaside Hospital in 1982, nurses performed all sorts of tasks, from boiler room repairs to holiday cooking.

There were no kitchen staff, no receptionists, Romanaggi said. “Somebody rang the doorbell and you ran out there,” she said.

When an emergency physician was unavailable, nurses called the doctor at home.

The emergency room, staffed with one nurse, often required an extra nurse to be called in.

Romanaggi’s nearly four decades of service comes as Providence Seaside celebrates the 40th year of the Sisters of Providence assuming sponsorship of Seaside General Hospital.

In 1934, the former Mercer Hospital became Seaside General Hospital. The city sold bonds in 1945 to pay for a new hospital, which opened the next year, at South Franklin and Avenue S.

In December 1967, the state board of health approved a $1.2 million bond for a new facility to be located on land annexed into the city in January 1968 on a slope east of South Wahanna Road.

Providence assumed sponsorship of the 55-bed hospital on July 1, 1981.

In December 2017, the foundation board launched the “Beyond 911” program to expand emergency care at the hospital and with a goal to raise $1.5 million toward a $5 million rebuild. The emergency department debuted in July 2020 and sees more than 10,000 patients a year, with increased traffic on holidays and seasonally.

The hospital invested more than $16.2 million to improve community health in 2020, according to hospital spokesperson Mike Antrim, including $820,000 in community health services and $2.7 million in free and low-cost care.

Today’s emergency room features a larger waiting and registration area, along with a triage room and nine private treatment rooms. The department is staffed with up to four nurses, seeing sometimes 40 patients a day.

Emergency room volumes vary throughout the day, but are typically busier during the summer, Antrim said.

With Life Flight Network medics and telehealth options to help diagnose heart attacks and strokes, technology has made a vast difference in patient care, Romanaggi said. A robot can identify if a stroke is suspected, and straight to a CAT scan and neurologist to receive clot-dissolving medication right away.

Because of the pandemic, this past year-and-a-half has been particularly stressful, Romanaggi said.

The hospital is “really busy,” a trend among hospitals everywhere, Romanaggi said. “We’re feeling it across Oregon and across the country. I think part of it is folks had put off care for the past 18 months.”

Getting through the pandemic literally tips a lot of people over the edge, she said. “Nurses used to love to come work in the emergency room in critical care,” she said. “Today, a lot of nurses don’t want to go in that direction.”

New programs and recruitment aim to correct that balance, with a focus on technical skills and critical thinking.

A new emergency services manager, Kathy Gantz, joined the staff late last month.

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