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Rice Hospital awards bids to relocate 3 departments for new cancer facility

WILLMAR -- Bids totaling nearly $395,000 were awarded Wednesday for relocating Rice Memorial Hospital's health information services department -- a move that will clear the way for starting construction on an integrated cancer center in the hospital's west wing.

The contracts were approved after review Wednesday night by the city-owned hospital's board of directors.

All told, Rice will spend in the neighborhood of $795,000 to move the health information services department. Two adjacent offices -- the medical staff services department and the sleep studies department -- also are being relocated.

The price tag includes remodeling, electrical and mechanical costs, and the cost of moving and re-installing voice and data systems.

A motorized filing system that caused the death of a medical records worker in 2007 also is being replaced with a safer manual shelving system.

It's not a project that hospital officials planned on when they put together the capital budget for 2009. In fact, all three departments that are being moved have been in their current space for only a few years.

But it became necessary when the design for the integrated cancer center demanded more space than had originally been set aside, said Dale Hustedt, interim chief executive of Rice.

"We underestimated the amount of space we had to have available for the cancer center," he said.

The cancer center project is being undertaken by Willmar Medical Services, a joint venture between the hospital and Affiliated Community Medical Centers. It will bring local cancer care services, which previously were split between the hospital and the clinic, together under one roof.

Construction bids for the cancer center are scheduled to be awarded in February.

When the hospital undertook a $54 million expansion and renovation eight years ago, space in the west wing was designated for a future cancer center -- but at that time the joint venture didn't even exist, Hustedt said.

"We didn't know if that was going to happen or not. This was far out into the future," he said.

But after almost a year of working on the architectural design for the cancer center, it became clear that more space was needed, he said.

"We really felt we wanted to incorporate everything and do it right, and that meant we needed more square footage," he said.

Work is expected to start within the next few weeks on relocating the three departments.

Bill Fenske, the hospital's chief financial officer, said the relocation wasn't included in this year's capital budget. But because spending on new equipment has been conservative the past couple of years, there's room to accommodate it, he said.

He noted that the estimate for the project came in at $881,000. "The construction bids came in more aggressive than we thought, so we were able to see some savings," he said.

One phase of the project -- replacement of the motorized filing system used for medical records -- is already under way.

A medical records worker died in 2007 after becoming pinned when the automatic shelving accidentally activated. Problems had been reported earlier with the automatic sensors that were supposed to detect when someone was in the aisle between shelves.

Because of the fatality, hospital officials decided to revert to a manual shelving system, Hustedt said.