In eight years, Columbus Regional Hospital’s emergency department has come a long way.

An everlasting image from June 7, 2008, is hospital patients being evacuated when floodwaters rushed into the building. Damage to the basement and first floor, where the emergency department was located, was extensive enough that the hospital closed inpatient services for nearly five months. A mobile emergency department set up in the hospital’s parking lot substituted for the permanent emergency department.

At that point, a new, state-of-the-art emergency department would have been hard to envision, even though plans to expand were already in place.

The hospital had to use money in its cash reserves — including what was set aside for the new emergency department — to continue paying employees during the closure. The decision was to invest in people, not bricks and mortar, CEO and President Jim Bickel said at the time.

Story continues below gallery

That was the right decision, but it also delayed creating a facility large enough to meet the hospital’s growing emergency department patient volume and space needs — until now.

Columbus Regional Hospital’s new 16,350-square-foot emergency department — a $16 million investment — opened May 25. That’s tremendous news for patients, many of whom had to wait longer than desired to receive medical attention.

The old emergency department was designed to handle 20,000 to 25,000 patients annually, but about 41,000 came though in 2015. The new department is designed to handle 50,000 patients annually.

Other significant changes include 28 treatment rooms instead of 19, and a Rapid Medical Assessment area to improve the flow of patients to services.

Hospital leaders deserve congratulations for sticking with the idea of building a new, larger emergency department. It’s a much-needed addition to the community and will be a great benefit to patients.