Patients at University Hospital & Clinics are spending far less time waiting in the emergency room these days and are more satisfied with the care they receive, the hospital’s chief executive officer said Wednesday.

Jared Stark, the CEO, touted the hospital’s turnaround during a brief celebration in the hospital’s lobby to mark the one-year anniversary since Lafayette General Health took over operations of the public hospital in June through a $15.8 million annual lease agreement with the state.

The celebration by Stark and hospital executives was two months delayed because of the work underway at UHC to complete the transition to electronic medical records at the hospital and its clinics.

Stark touted the hospital’s improved patient satisfaction numbers.

“We’ve made so many positive changes and affected so many lives,” Stark said.

The public hospital faced several budget cuts prior to the takeover, forcing the closure or reduction of services. In the past year, those services have been reopened or expanded in othopedics, pediatrics, cardiology, oncology and medical detox.

“We’ve tripled our physician coverage for the oncology unit and recruited Dr. Wendy Dean-Colomb who will train residents and do research here, as well,” Stark said.

Staff at the public hospital had also been reduced to about 500 before Lafayette General Health took over operations. Now, 700 are employed at UHC, Stark said, “so, we’re a major economic force in the community, and we’re proud of that.”

Other statistics shared by Stark also show a stark contrast when compared to last year:

Inpatient beds increased from 16 to 31.

Average daily patient census increased from 16 to 31.

Operating rooms increased from two to four.

Emergency room wait times are down 49 percent.

A year ago, a little more than 16 percent of patients who came to the emergency department left without being seen, Stark said.

That rate is now down to 6 percent, while the national average is 2 to 3 percent, he said.

Ethel Colligan was one of the patients who had left the emergency room without seeing a doctor. She said she waited in the emergency department from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. on a visit to the hospital about a year ago

“I was in so much pain, I left. I’ve been back since then and it was a shorter wait,” Colligan said.

She said she’s also noticed changes in the family practice clinic, where she’s been able to make more timely appointments to see a doctor.

“If I call for an appointment, I don’t have to wait long to get in,” she said.

Last June, the average wait time in the emergency room was 155.5 minutes; a year later, it was 79 minutes, according to information provided by UHC.

A study of the times when there was a higher volume of patients led to a staffing adjustments, said Laurence Vincent, UHC chief nursing officer.

Vincent said placement of a nurse practitioner or physician at triage — where emergency room patients are first assessed — has helped expedite patient care.

“They can start ordering tests or write prescriptions so we can assist patients more quickly,” she said.

There are plans to expand the emergency department, pending state bond commission approval. The project has had a spot on the state’s capital outlay budget for the past few years.

The hospital is also a teaching facility in partnership with LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans for medical students and new doctors. The partnership has expanded training opportunities for new doctors with Lafayette General Medical Center also now a teaching site. Talks are also underway with LSU about the potential to offer a three-year, medical school program in Lafayette.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.