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Meeker Hospital staff makes move to addition

Don Konietzko, radiology manager at Meeker Memorial Hospital, shows off the CT scan machine in one of the new rooms in the hospital's radiology department. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

LITCHFIELD -- With the move-in complete at the Meeker Memorial Hospital expansion in Litchfield, staff and patients are struck with how different their surroundings are now from just over a week ago.

Then, radiology, surgery, and the emergency room were on three separate floors in a structure that Education and Marketing Coordinator Lori Rice described as a "skinny little building that went straight up." Now, a single floor with a long wide hallway takes patients from one room to the next, like an efficient healthcare assembly line.

Then, nurses found they couldn't talk frankly with patients who were separated only by thin curtains. Now, there are 25 private rooms for inpatients, and plenty of private space for discreet conversations.

Providing an efficient but comforting environment for patients was the aim of the project from when it was approved in 2005 up until today, said Rice. She said she was more than happy with the results.

"Overall, there's a lot more privacy and it's much more convenient for patients," she said.

The mix of practical functionality and soothing aesthetics is apparent throughout the addition. Details like a mock skylight over a CT scanner and rooms with wood flooring all add to an environment designed to limit stress, say hospital employees.

On the practical side, built-in surgery lights in baby delivery rooms eliminate the need to bring in portable lighting, and an improved filing system is now entirely digital.

"We're just about ready to go paperless," said radiology manager Don Konietzko.

Konietzko said the addition was essential for the continued relevance of county hospitals like Meeker. To that end, he said he was especially happy with the hospital's new MRI machine. Before, staff had to send patients elsewhere for the scans, something that won't be the case anymore.

"We needed this service in our area," he said. "Today, either you keep up, or you don't survive."

Inpatients have reacted favorably to the new rooms in the addition, said inpatient nurse Angie Dietel. She said that patients who were moved from the old hospital to the new addition last weekend commented immediately on the size of the rooms and the quiet environment. The pullout beds in every room were also a plus.

"They think it's beautiful, very spacious," she said.

Construction at Meeker isn't totally complete, though. Superintendent Doug Hackenmueller of Je Dunn Construction out of Eden Prairie was still roaming the halls of the addition on Thursday, putting on finishing touches here and there. He said that his work of over 2 years on the addition is "just about done." He still has about three months to go on renovating the old wing of the hospital.

Hospital interim CEO Gary Sogge said that when work is finally complete, the total cost of the project should be in line with the budgeted $26.5 million.

"For the new part, I would say that we came in a little under budget," he said.

Sogge said that while there were some kinks to work out in switching to all digital systems and getting adjusted to the new addition, the transition had gone smoothly overall. He said that in the end, patients will see the difference.

"This is really great for the patients and guests of our hospital," he said.

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