CHICAGO (CBS) — The first phase of the opening of the new Rush University Medical Center began Friday, as the hospital’s state-of-the-art emergency department begins operating.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, the old emergency room at the medical center stopped accepting new patients overnight, in preparation for the opening Friday morning of the new emergency room. It was designed by the medical professionals who will actually use it.

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LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

“It’s rare that you have the opportunity to design and build your space from scratch,” said Rush emergency department chairman Dr. Dino Rumoro. “Usually, you’re retrofitting an old space.”

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The new Rush emergency center is designed to handle 60 patients at a time normally, but is large enough to deal with 120 patients in the event of a disaster.

“In this facility, we designed an over 130 percent surge capacity,” Rumoro said.

The ER also features a decontamination center – complete with decontamination showers and an enclosed ambulance bay for potentially contaminated patients – that makes Rush the only bioterrorism preparedness center in the nation.

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The opening of the emergency department Friday will be followed by the transfer of patients Sunday from the old emergency room – housed in a building constructed in the 19th century – to the new, 14-story “Tower” building, the butterfly-shaped structure that is visible from the Eisenhower Expressway.