The healthcare needs of patients changed quite dramatically in the almost 50 years since Tri-County Health Care’s current facility was under construction. But staff have found ways to adapt. That’s something hospital staff are good at, according to Mary Peeters, surgery manager at Tri-County Health Care. Thanks to a new construction project for TCHC, the staff are looking forward to a space more fit to do their jobs.

Peeters was one of three TCHC managers that walked curious community members through mock rooms over the weekend during a sneak peek event for the new hospital and clinic complex. The event allowed the community to view plans, ask questions and hear from staff about what this project means to them. It was one of four opportunities over the weekend for the community to attend.

To Peeters, this construction means safer, larger surgery suites that allow for the needed space for people of all sizes.

TCHC CEO and President Joel Beiswenger used the surgery area as a prime example of places that need to grow but have no room to grow in the current building. The larger size is needed because of the larger equipment.

“There is so much more technology that comes out of the ceiling in a surgery unit today,” Beiswenger said. “We have lower ceilings than are necessary to function.”

Like other rooms shown at the event, the exam, clinic and inpatient rooms, there are separate entrances for patients and for staff. That was particularly important in the surgery room where there is a planned decontamination exit. So instead of people walking through the same corridors as where potentially contaminated items have passed, there is a plan for division.

This is based on a Disney theme park concept, according to Beiswenger, where patients won’t have access to the behind the scenes work that goes on. The areas where patients are allowed also allow for more privacy according to staff.

“All the patient, visitor, public activity will happen on the south side of the facility,” Beiswenger said.

When community members heard of the larger rooms, one member of the audience asked if the new hospital was larger than the old. Beiswenger said the new hospital, which is all on one level, is actually a slightly smaller structure at 123,000 square feet. That being said, it offers 44 exam rooms, about four more than the current facility. There are three surgery suites, the same as the current facility, but they are larger. There are 14 outpatient rooms, more than today, which is representative of the shift the hospital has seen from a focus of 90% inpatients, to 90% outpatients.

“The challenge was not to build a bigger facility, but to build a right facility,” Beiswenger said. Most of that space is for clinical care, not support services like business, administration and marketing.

Inpatient rooms are less abundant (14), with large windows showing off the outdoors.

“Those 14 rooms will meet 99.9% of our needs based on our data and analytics,” Beiswenger said.

Those rooms add to the overall feel of the facility, which seeks to “let the outside in,” according to Beiswenger. The front of the building draws on that same desire with huge windows stretching upwards with a roof line that aims into the sky. While those windows let the outside in, Beiswenger said they also serve as “a beacon out to the community.”

“Don’t focus on colors,” Beiswenger cautioned the group as the colors shown were likely changing. The front entrance included yellow-colored blocks .He instead suggested the group focus on the layout. The group followed a virtual tour of the public spaces of the building on a large projector from the emergency department to the clinic and rehab spaces. The tour showed that while there are large public space corridors, your status will be far more private than the current setup.

Community members were able to speak with staff members like inpatient manager Theresa Mack and nurse manager Torey Neisen. Mack brought attendees into the mock-inpatient room that includes a window with a blind so those staff looking to visit can see whether they are interrupting anything. Mack said sleep is limited in a hospital as patients are constantly being checked on, this looks to reduce some of those interruptions.

“This will give us a little extra ability to really bug you less but still being able to keep a close eye on you,” Mack said. There is still a curtain that can be pulled across when privacy is needed.

Once inside, tape on the floor revealed the actual size is significantly larger than the current rooms and includes a window view with a couch/sleeper for those looking to catch a snooze while staying the night with the patient. Bathrooms are also larger with room for wheelchairs, more safety features and a shower with nothing but a slight slant to the floor, meaning there are no floor obstructions to trip over or block the travel of wheelchairs.

Mack demonstrated how staff often have to reach over a patient in bed in order to complete certain tasks, those awkward stretches should be avoided in the new layouts.

Tri-County Health Care surgery manager Mary Peeters shows off the added space in the planned surgery suite, which was on display in the former Family Dollar building in Wadena.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Tri-County Health Care surgery manager Mary Peeters shows off the added space in the planned surgery suite, which was on display in the former Family Dollar building in Wadena. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

In the surgery suite, Peeters considered the lack of space for equipment an issue that gives rise to tripping hazards in the current facility. But the larger space and placement of equipment on the ceiling in the new plan provided an open feel. Another welcome feeling she mentioned was new technology will allow the surgery staff to maintain a certain temperature needed for surgery then quickly change the temperature in just that room if needed, such as providing a warm welcome for a new baby.

Peeters said now that procedure takes an advanced call down to the maintenance department to adjust the temperature.

Staff said they have been let into the construction process from the very beginning, allowing them to have input into the very rooms they work in daily.

Economic impact

Tri-County Health Care provides 364 full-time equivalent jobs in the region and a payroll of about $30 million. Beiswenger said the projected impact of this new construction includes 48 new jobs as positions are expected to grow, not because of added services, but organically as TCHC seeks to serve more patients. Those jobs add another $10 million of impact annually, Beiswenger said.

Beiswenger added that just the construction of this building is expected to bring in $36.5 million into the region over the length of the construction, including now as designers and architects are already spending money in the community.

What about the current buildings?

Beiswenger said TCHC does not at this time have the money to build a new space for all non-patient staff like administration, billing or marketing. They will instead inhabit about 30,000 square feet (20%) of the current hospital building. All remaining portions would have reduced heating and cooling and be mothballed until another use is identified for them, that includes all of Wesley Hospital.

Beiswenger said he continues to work with Wadena economic development director Dean Uselman and Wadena County economic development director Katie Heppner to identify future uses for these buildings.

What’s next?

Beiswenger said the current timeline includes breaking ground in July 2020. That time has to do with the release of funding from the USDA. Beiswenger said they’d love to start earlier, but the funding has to come through before they can scratch the surface. Mortenson Construction expects a 22-month build with an opening around Memorial Day 2022.

About 15 attended the Sunday gathering with another 25 attending over the three meetings Saturday, Jan. 18. Weather likely played a part in limiting traffic as blowing snow made travel difficult through the weekend.