Scripps Encinitas celebrates opening of hospital expansion


When two Encinitas doctors decided the time had come to open a hospital in Encinitas more than 50 years ago, it’s unlikely they envisioned what patients and staff would experience in the new Leichtag Foundation Critical Care Pavilion.

On July 1, the newest wing opened with fanfare and a promise that the new emergency room and critical care floor will provide a more comfortable and efficient place for patients, their families and the doctors, nurses and support staff caring for them.

The two-story, 72,321-foot building is named for the local philanthropic organization and longtime hospital supporters who donated $10 million to the $94 million needed to move the second phase of the expansion forward.

Of the money raised so far in the continuing campaign, a total of $40 million has come from the community, with donations large and small — some from children, and $1 million from employees, said Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health.

“When we were touring it the other day, I kind of chuckled,” he said. “The staff members were picking out their own rooms, just in case.”

On a more serious note, he added, the expansion includes “every innovation in IT, communications, visibility, privacy and storage” to accommodate the growing patient demand in coastal North County as well as a structure that meets the state’s seismic requirements.

Instead of 12 emergency beds, separated only by curtains, the department now has 26 private rooms, two of which can serve as resuscitation rooms and four as isolation rooms for patients suspected of having airborne illnesses. The emergency room also has three triage areas enabling staff to evaluate patients in a more private setting.

And now, instead of having to call for portable X-ray or ultrasound units, or to move patients to a different part of the hospital for imaging, an adjoining area has equipment dedicated just for the ER.

“Before, they had to share with the rest of the hospital,” Van Gorder said.

In planning the expansion, staff and others who use the facility, like first responders, had chances to suggest useful improvements.

One of those is new ambulance parking — five ambulance bays with gated access that will cut time getting patients into the ER, send the crews back into service quicker and give them greater security, he added.

There’s also a “heli-stop” on the roof to ferry patients to the area’s trauma centers or to take newborns or children to Rady Children’s Hospital, and decontamination showers to meet haz-mat needs.

“Before, if they needed to shower, they were almost doing it in the parking lot,” Van Gorder said.

The second floor of the Leichtag Foundation Pavilion houses 36 private rooms for medical and surgical inpatient care. Twelve can be converted to intensive-care rooms if needed.

Calling the new complex “very patient-centric,” Van Gorder noted the focus on a “healing environment,” with each of the rooms having a garden view or west-facing, sunset view and ample space for family and visitors.

The ground level has garden areas, and the second level has a terraced roof garden with native grasses and succulents.

The architecture and interior décor are warm and “very beachy,” in keeping with the coastline setting, Van Gorder said. “It’s not only better for patients, but also makes for a better working environment.”

The project also includes a new energy plant built where a parking lot used to be along with the new imaging technology.

Infrastructure improvements were also made on and around the hospital grounds, along with upgrades to the southbound I-5 offramp near the hospital and along Devonshire Drive, which borders the Scripps property on the west.

The last new construction on the medical campus was in 1991, when the emergency room grew from six to 12 beds.

This project has been a long time coming, having faced neighbors’ objections to the first phase of the expansion, which included a parking structure completed in 2011.

As far back as 2004, residents near the hospital next to Interstate 5 at Santa Fe Drive had expressed concerns about traffic and plans for the community park set for completion in the fall.

“The neighbors’ complaints have stopped,” Van Gorder said, noting that many were at the celebration when the parking structure opened. “They made their concerns known, and we addressed them.”

Scripps Encinitas is at 354 Santa Fe Drive. Visit