It was precisely 7 a.m. on Tuesday when a beaming Kelly Mather, CEO of Sonoma Valley Hospital, unveiled a sign pointing to the brand-new emergency room.

At that moment, Sonoma’s old ER – described by hospital staff as run-down and shabby – closed, and a modern one opened in its place.

The inevitable chaos ensued as doctors, nurses and everyone else made the transition from old to new. Supplies and equipment filled the rooms, staff sorted things out, and 15 minutes in, the first patient arrived.

It was a hectic morning, but by noon the place was decidedly calmer – “a lot better than it was four hours ago,” said Mark Kobe, director of nursing. Most nurses were still getting to know their new environment, and the talkative buzz gave the place a first-day-of-school air.

Kobe reflected the happiness everyone there seemed to feel at occupying a modern healthcare facility. For example, “We didn’t have a dedicated triage room in the old ER, and now we do,” he said.

Other improvements are even more obvious. SVH’s old facility, with its cramped spaces, faded walls and grey floors – hospital marketing coordinator Celia Kruse de la Rosa described the decor as “’40s meets ’80s” – was uninspiring for staff and unpleasant for patients and those waiting for them.

But the new ER is a larger and warmer space, with earth tones and design touches, soft music over the sound system, a colorful mural by Sonoma artist George Dawnay, and a children’s play area to make the waiting room better for youngsters.

More important is what’s past the waiting room: The layout includes a centralized nursing station with commanding views of the place, letting doctors and nurses keep better tabs on their patients.

“Awesome,” was the word used by Kelly Williams, a longtime charge nurse for Sonoma Valley Hospital’s emergency room and ICU. She said people have talked about upgrading the ER for as long as she’s been working there – more than 20 years.

Dr. Robert Cohen, the hospital’s chief medical officer, has been there for nearly 30 years, and called Tuesday’s opening “the icing on the cake for my career.”

“I’m proud that we can show this off for my community,” he said.