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Plan unveiled to board for renovating Rice Care Center

A proposal to renovate the skilled nursing wings at the Rice Care Center was outlined Wednesday to the Rice Memorial Hospital Board of Directors. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- A proposal to renovate the skilled nursing wings at the Rice Care Center calls for a "household" concept that creates groups of resident rooms with shared living and dining areas.

There would be more private rooms. Nursing stations would be decentralized.

Even the infrastructure would receive a complete makeover, from the boilers and the mechanical systems to the windows.

The plan was outlined Wednesday to the Rice Memorial Hospital Board of Directors, which voted to continue moving ahead with design development.

"We believe it's definitely the right thing to do," said Bill Fenske, chief financial officer.

The project's total cost is estimated at $5 million to $5.5 million. It would be carried out in one-year phases over three years. If all goes according to plan, bids could be let in September of this year and construction would start the following month.

Upgrading the aging Rice Care Center has been a priority for Rice Hospital for several years. One of the goals, construction of a new addition for short-term rehabilitation patients, was accomplished last year with the opening of the Therapy Suites facility.

Now hospital and nursing home officials are turning their attention to the nursing home itself.

The goal has been to address both infrastructure and livability, said Rick Moore, the architect with Horty Elving who has been working with Rice on redesigning the care center.

It's an outdated 1960s-era facility in need of change, Moore said. "There are many things we would do today that weren't done then. We have a building that has aged in all respects."

There are some structural challenges -- among them the interior hallways, which are load-bearing and can't be altered, he said.

By working within the confines of the existing space, Horty Elving developed a design that would turn the nursing home's two wings into "households" of 28 residents each. Rooms would be renovated to create more private rooms and more space, and each wing also would get an addition containing common living and dining space. The number of double rooms will be reduced from 13 to seven, and eight more private rooms will be gained.

Spaces "that feel like home" were a design priority, Moore said. "The households are important because it sets the tone for a more homelike environment."

An overhaul of the mechanical systems and other infrastructure also will improve the overall facility, he said. "I think we have the right mix of things."

Hospital and nursing home officials are trying to keep within a budget of $1.4 million for each of the three phases of the project. This is the maximum amount of capital improvements per year that the state allows nursing homes to recapture through their reimbursement rates.

But the scope of the mechanical work, plus general inflation, has pushed the cost of each phase higher than this.

"We've talked a lot about the budget and where we're at and how to pare that back," said Mike Schramm, Rice Hospital chief executive. "We're really trying to stick to the core principles of the plan."

He and Fenske said there will be more work in upcoming months to refine the budget.

"That is the next step -- the financial picture of what this would look like," Fenske said.

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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