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Mercy Hospital expansion to provide improved, 'patient-focused' facility

Editor's note: This is part 2 of a story on upcoming changes to Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake. Part 1 is attached to this story.

Currently, an emergency patient at Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake in need of a CT scan must be transported all the way to the opposite end of the building.

"If you're having to travel that distance wearing a hospital gown, it's even more of an inconvenience," said Mercy CEO Jason Douglas.

In order to get to surgery, a patient or staff member must walk past every patient room in the hospital. Incoming supplies, unloaded at the basement level, must be transported to the main floor by elevator and distributed down that same main patient corridor as well.

All of this adds up to a less-than-optimum patient experience at the hospital, despite the level of care offered there. The staff, board and administration are about to change all of that.

In early October, members of the Mercy Hospital Board approved a plan for a major expansion and renovation of the nearly-50-year-old hospital facility, much of which is geared toward a higher and more efficient degree of patient care and experience.

"This new building project will provide a patient-focused facility that reflects the personalized, high quality care that our staff provides to our patients," said Douglas.

The plan will include roughly 73,000 square feet of additional space in the facility, 33,000 square feet of major remodeling and 10,000 square feet of minor remodeling, leaving about 32,000 square feet of the current building that won't be impacted by the construction.

A third operating suite will be added, as well as a new lab adjacent to surgery, a new radiology/X-ray area (including in-house MRI capability) and new emergency room space.

Staff and public areas will be separated as much as possible.

"We want to make sure we are able to respect the dignity of the patients as they go from place to place," said Keith Carlson, director of support services.

With the new addition, the current nursing home entrance will remain where it is, and the main public entrance to the hospital will be changed to the opposite end of the building. The public entrance to the emergency room will be separate from the entrance for ambulances and the prison population to avoid unnecessary interaction and congestion.

All the 21 new patient rooms will be built in a brand new second-floor space.

"It's the first time in Mercy's history that we will have vertical construction," said Carlson.

"We're going with all private patient rooms," added Douglas, "and we're including in our patient rooms the concept of staff space, patient space and family space, with a couch and chairs."

All rooms will have exterior views of the scenic grounds surrounding the hospital.

The second-floor space will also include a four-room labor and delivery area with a nursery and post-

partum room, and the pharmacy will be located on that floor as well.

Remodeled space vacated by some of those departments will be utilized for the creation of a business center to house such offices as medical records, administration, finance and human resources. Physical therapy will take over most of the current patient wing and will be easily accessible from the nursing home as well as to the public. The dietary and cafeteria area will be redesigned as well.

"Health care is becoming more hospitality based," said Douglas, "so one of the things we're going to look at doing is restaurant-style dining. You're starting to see that type of on-demand food service more and more in the health care industry. Instead of having to eat at 7 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., the patient can order a cheeseburger from dietary at 2 p.m. [if that's something that's been approved for him or her] and have it delivered right after that. It's all about what's best for the patient."

The hospital's receiving area will be relocated from the basement onto the main floor, complete with its own loading dock, and will have the capability to deliver supplies to various parts of the hospital without going through the patient areas.

The expansion/renovation project will be funded with a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its community facilities (CF) program, as well as a loan guarantee for a private loan through Agstar.

The USDA invested over $97 million throughout Minnesota using the CF program in fiscal year 2012 - more than 600 percent of its total funding allocation - breaking its previous record of $80 million set in 2010 (when it had additional funds from the Recovery Act).

Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has invested about $115 million to build or improve critical access hospitals in Minnesota. The USDA and Agstar have partnered to fund over $124 million for six health care-related projects throughout rural Minnesota, including the recent expansion project at Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet.

Terri Ellison, public relations coordinator, said the Mercy Hospital Foundation is in the process of completing a feasibility study to determine what level of financial support the hospital might be able to expect from the public sector. Based on the results, there will likely be a capital campaign launched in the near future to help support the project.

Mercy Hospital, a 25-bed critical access hospital, is classified as a Minnesota Hospital District, which Douglas defined as "kind of a unique, quasi-governmental hospital," one of only 12 in the state. The district is made up of eight different townships and communities that surround Moose Lake and governed by an elected board of nine directors.

The hospital has 14 physicians who utilize its facilities on a regular basis as well as various specialties, such as general surgery, orthopedics, urology, opt homology, gynecology and radiology, some of which are shared with Cloquet. It also has an in-house sleep study program (which will be relocated to the recently remodeled first-floor birthing area). For referrals, Mercy's doctors and staff have good working relationships with both St. Luke's and Essentia in Duluth.

Both Douglas and Carlson are optimistic that the Mercy Hospital expansion project will help guarantee the hospital's success far into the future.

"With health care reform efforts, things are changing," acknowledged Douglas. "We assume 10 years from now we're going to be paid differently than we are now. We feel we have good relationships with other systems in the market as well as our neighbors, and locally we have a good foundation of doctors to help support what we need as an organization in order to continue to thrive. I think we are well-positioned for reform, and we'll do well."