Patients in York Hospital's emergency department sometimes have to wait hours before they're seen.

Sometimes they have to answer personal questions with only a single curtain to give them privacy.

And sometimes they can't even get a room: They're put in hospital beds the hallway - no curtain, no privacy.

"But we want to do better for the York community," said York Hospital President Keith Noll.

The hospital's solution? Build a new emergency department, with a focus on the patient experience.

The plan: WellSpan Health announced Thursday plans to fully renovate the department, which hasn't been touched in 20 years.

Construction will begin next summer, and the finished project is expected to open to patients by fall 2017.

The current emergency department cares for nearly 78,000 patients a year in a facility designed to treat about 50,000. The new department is projected to serve 88,000 patients annually by 2025.

And the renovation - a $50 million, 46,000-square-foot project - comes at a time when the population is growing, aging and going to be in need of even more emergency care, Noll said.

"It's really based on trying to improve the care that we're providing to the community," he said.

To improve the design of the revamp, WellSpan rented out a warehouse in one of York County's industrial parks and built an almost-to-scale model of it out of cardboard, he said.

More than 300 mock patients went through clinical scenarios. In fact, Noll said, 1,400 different suggestions - including three changes to the entrance alone - helped officials address efficiency before the actual build begins.

Special features and goals: The current emergency department will continue to care for patients seven days a week, 24 hours a day during renovation and construction. To allow for a smooth transition, one of the first steps of the renovation is to change a parking lot to an express care room to add capacity right away, Noll said.

To allow to better traffic flow, the hospital will relocate its helipad from the front of the department to go over the access road by the South George Street entrance, across from Rest Haven, he said. Valet parking will also be offered to patients and their loved ones.

Another goal is to eliminate hallway beds completely, Noll said, and use a holistic approach with the architecture, replacing the dank, dark department with a bright, modern design.

And much of the crowding results from bottlenecking because every patient is treated in the same area, he said. In the new department, that won't be the case: Several new treatment areas will be added, he said.

Designated areas will treat patients with minor injuries and illnesses, as well as pediatric, cardiovascular, orthopedic and behavioral health patients.

A redesign of the department's process will include quickly sorting each patient depending on what level of care they need, Noll said.

Another big goal is to eliminate wait times for patients, said James Amsterdam, M.D., chair emeritus of the hospital's Department of Emergency Medicine.

"Our goal, believe it or not, is a no-waiting emergency department," he said, and he hopes to achieve that 85 percent of the time.

And with the tremendous number of patients and providers in the department, it's clear why the hospital uses the term rather than the "emergency room" of old, Amsterdam said.

"It's so much more than a room," he said.

- Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.