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Bids OK'd for on-call ambulance quarters at rescue bldg.

WILLMAR -- The Rice Memorial Hospital board awarded $109,270 in construction bids Thursday, clearing the way to turn part of the rescue squad building into living quarters for on-call ambulance crews.

The vote came at a special meeting of the board, which was followed by a closed session for strategic discussion about Rice Care Center, the hospital-owned long-term care facility.

Bill Fenske, chief financial officer for Rice Hospital, said the living quarters will provide a place for paramedics and emergency medical technicians to stay while they're on call.

It will also give them immediate access to an ambulance when they need to respond to an emergency.

"They need to be available within 90 seconds from where they are to the rig," he said. "We need to have a place for them to spend time while they're on call."

In the past, crews have been quartered in a house on Second Street south of the hospital.

That house is slated for demolition this year, however, along with two other houses on the block, to make way for parking and a possible expansion at the Lakeland Health Center medical office building.

All three houses, along with the Lakeland Health Center building, are owned by Shared Health Resources, a partnership between Rice Hospital and Willmar Properties. The latter is the parent corporation of Family Practice Medical Center, one of the largest occupants of the Lakeland Health Center.

Fenske said hospital officials looked at other options for the on-call ambulance crew, including using some of the space at the Willmar Fire Hall.

The new Rescue Squad building, which opened last October, appeared to be the best choice, however, he said. "That's what we believe is our best long-term solution."

Hospital officials haven't yet signed a lease with Kandiyohi County but are close to finalizing the terms of a 10-year deal, Fenske said.

Two ambulances, in addition to the on-call crew, will be housed at the building. The Willmar Ambulance Service also will continue to use its own garage, just east of the hospital, for the three ambulances assigned to crews who are on active duty.

Although the vote to award the construction bids was unanimous, some local officials are wondering why the coordination between city-owned Rice Hospital and Kandiyohi County couldn't have happened sooner.

Local government is under increasing pressure to be efficient, said Jim Dokken, a Willmar City Council member and the council's liaison to the hospital board.

"We need to do a better job of coordinating the things within our city we can coordinate," he said. "We need to do a better job of talking to each other."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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