AUGUSTA — A year after opening a new hospital, officials report continued concern about a lack of beds but say the new design means fewer patient falls and a 20 percent reduction in the incidence of hospital-acquired infections.

“The good news is at least there’s nobody waiting in the emergency department for a bed,” said Chuck Hays, CEO of MaineGeneral Medical Center.

But he’s still smarting because the new building has 192 patient rooms, not the 226 rooms the hospital staff wanted. State regulators who signed off on the regional replacement hospital refused to approve the larger number.

“I think we’re still going to have some challenges with the size of the hospital,” Hays said, “but it won’t be as bad.” Complaints about capacity rose early when patients had to wait in the emergency room for a bed to become available, and some were given the option to go to other hospitals.

Hays said he expects that challenge to increase, in the short term, particularly through the flu season.

The hospital had seen some good results after consolidating inpatient beds from the Thayer campus in Waterville and the former Augusta hospital in the new 640,000-square-foot hospital at the north end of Augusta. The Thayer Center for Health underwent a $16 million renovation, but now it provides only outpatient treatment..

Hays said data from surveys showed higher levels of patient satisfaction, much lower instances of falls and a 20 percent lower incidence of hospital-acquired infections.

The hospital was designed to address some of those issues. All the 192 beds are in private rooms, handrails help steady a patient moving from the bed to the bathroom, and the average number of times a patient is relocated within the hospital generally is limited to moving from one level of care to another.

“All the indicators we’ve measured have improved,” Hays said, adding that it will take a year and a half for those to show up on some national databases. “One year later, we’ve gotten much more efficient.”

In fact, most outside agencies measuring hospital metrics have data relating to MaineGeneral’s performance in its previous hospital facilities. The most recent records end in June 2013, five months prior to the opening of the consolidated facility. Patients gave mixed reviews of the new hospital, with some offering praise peppered with a little criticism.

FEWER LAGS REPORTED

When the new hospital opened, the emergency room generated the most complaints, and some of those continue.

Mary Sprague of South Gardiner said her husband, Timothy Sprague, had a bad experience in the emergency room in May when he sought treatment for his sore foot.

“They don’t do nothing,” she said, adding that his problem was both diagnosed and treated at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

The hospital is responding to the concerns, and it has a patient advocate department to help patients with complaints.

“We are making ongoing improvements to our Emergency Department to reduce waiting times, including a (streamlining) project focus in the Emergency Department and will initiate a similar effort for inpatient flow,” hospital spokeswoman Joy Leach said via email Friday.

Not all people reported problems in the emergency room.

Candace Sloma of Augusta was treated in the emergency room two days after the Nov. 9 opening.

“I was in and out of there in a matter of six hours,” she said. “I was amazed at the speed. They seemed to know what to do and where to go to get it. They were very efficient.”

BUDGET LOSS EXPECTED

Along with a number of physicians’ practices, housed in the Scott Bullock Medical Office Center, Hays said the new hospital also allows most administrators to be in the same building and much more readily available to meet, which is more efficient.

“We used to be in 10 different buildings,” he said.

Dollar figures, too, are on par with what the hospital anticipated.

Hays said the expectation was an initial two-year loss and a return to being 1 percent to 2 percent in the black by next year. The operating budget for the medical center itself is about $414 million for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, and includes the adjacent Alfond Center for Cancer Care, the Thayer Center for Health and the hospital’s physician practices. Hays also said the hospital anticipates a $5 million loss this year. He said a $16.4 million loss was anticipated last year, which ended up being $14.3 million.

MaineGeneral Medical Center employs about 2,400 people, of which about 1,700 full-time employees work at the hospital itself.

The hospital has had to make some adjustments for those workers as well, such as expanding the employee parking lot by 50 spaces in order to accommodate all the vehicles.

FEAR EASED BY CARE

The Rev. Lawrence “Bud” Merckens, 79, of Manchester, pastor of Riverside Congregational Church in Vassalboro, spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia last March.

“I couldn’t have gotten better services,” he said. “I was kind of worried about the hospital. I’m very suspicious of big things. I was completely wrong. It was very pleasant. Everyone went out of their way. I really felt quite relieved to be there.”

He said he enjoyed the meals; the fact that his wife, Hilda, could stay in the room with him; and even returning daily for two weeks for intravenous therapy.

“We’re very fortunate to have it in the community,” Merckens said.